'Deadliest Catch' Capt. Keith Colburn tells Senate of crabbers' shutdown woes

Capt-Keith-Colburn-Senate-Committee-Shutdown.jpgOn behalf of the Bering Sea crab fleet featured on the hit Discovery Channel series "Deadliest Catch," Capt. Keith Colburn of the F/V Wizard sat down with CNN's Jake Tapper and then headed to Capitol Hill on Friday (Oct. 11) to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on how the current government shutdown is going to delay the start of the fall king-crab season, which is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

The panel included committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockfeller (D-W.V.), Colburn's own Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who came in late after dealing with the deaths of up to 100,000 cattle in a freak blizzard that hit his agriculture-dependent home state.

To the legislators, Colburn said, "On behalf of all fishermen, I'm asking Congress to end the shutdown now. I'm a small businessman in a big ocean with big bills. I need to go fishing."

Facing the first October in 28 years that he's not heading out on time to fish for king crab, Colburn worried about Russian fishermen hauling in crab with no competition, perhaps replacing American-caught crab in vital holiday-season markets in Japan and the U.S.

Colburn also claimed that the National Marine Fisheries Service has money set aside from taxes the fishing fleet has paid already, that could be used to bring furloughed workers back in to issue crab-quota licenses and get the boats out to sea.

Talking to Zap2it shortly after concluding his testimony, Colburn says, "We can only hope that occurs. It's an issue that has to go from the top up to get them back to work."

Asked what the timetable looks like right now for the fleet, Colburn says, "That's the million-dollar, maybe the 80-million-dollar question. The timetable on crab -- we don't know. We're only hoping it's soon. We're already delayed. Even if we they act today, and we go back to work on Monday, we'll still be delayed getting out to the [fishing] grounds for three or four days."

After getting the call from a legislative aide for the committee, inviting him to testify, Colburn footed the bill for his own travel to Washington, D.C.

"The cost of a trip to D.C. and back," he says, "is nothing compared to the money that I could potentially lose here in the next few weeks or even in the next few days. If something happens, if my testimony resonates, if people listen, and we can find a way to get our fishery up and running -- because the crab fishery is the first of many that will be impacted -- it's pennies on the dollar."

As the telecast of the committee hearing ended on C-SPAN3, one of the female panelists could be heard asking Colburn for an autograph.

"I had a couple people ask me for autographs," he says. "There were a couple of senators and also some staffers, some other people I didn't know, and two of the gals who gave testimony, asked for autographs.

"Even in the halls of Washington, D.C., it seems to be a show that people watch."

But Colburn was in a considerable hurry to get out of the hearing room.

"I'm going to be honest," he says, "when I left that room, after over three hours of sitting in there, my bladder was so full there was nothing in my mind except getting to a restroom. So, if I forgot a face or a name or someone important, I really apologize."

Although the effects of the shutdown have starkly demonstrated just how much power and control government regulators and agencies have over the ability of private businesses to function, Colburn is all right with that in terms of his own industry.

"If we want to go back to the Stone Ages," he says, "and just go out there and rape and pillage and catch crab, then don't have us monitored. But right now, [the crab fishery] is one of the best biologically and scientifically managed fisheries on the planet.

"To do that, you have to have scientists and you have to have people at all levels, and some of those are in the government, that are overseeing our fisheries. I do not have a problem with that.

"I have a problem with little skirmishes and squabbles in D.C. that can shut down tons and tons of businesses in all sectors across the United States to make a point politically -- that's when I have an issue."

So far, there's no word from Discovery or Original Productions about whether filming for the series -- which usually premieres in April -- would be affected. In the past, though, when winter ice temporarily closed down fishing in the Bering Sea and also delayed the end of the winter opilio-crab season, the show continued documenting events as they unfolded.

Here's a clip of Colburn's Senate testimony, uploaded by Sen. Cantwell, primarily featuring her comments before questioning Colburn (and showing an autographed picture of the F/V Wizard) ...

And here's video of Colburn's segment on "The Lead With Jake Tapper" ...

Photo/Video credit: C-SPAN, CNN