Mother Nature vs. Washington: “Deadliest Catch’s” Keith Colburn on the politics of crab fishing

Shushannah Walshe, Devin Dwyer, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Power Players

As a crab boat captain, Captain Keith Colburn spends much of his life at the mercy of Mother Nature off the coast of Alaska.

“I love what I do, and I love being on the water,” Colburn told “Power Players.” “There's something about being out there and being in the middle of something that you can't control.”

But the crab boat captain -- made famous for his starring role in Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” -- said during a recent visit to Washington, D.C., that the ripples of political gridlock and policy decisions have also rocked his boat.

Just last year, Colburn’s business weathered the government shutdown.

“With over 8 million pounds of king crab to harvest among the fleet, we probably lost over $100,000 to $150,000 a boat,” Colburn estimated. Crab boats had little choice but to stay docked during the 15-day shutdown, because the government regulators who issue permits and manage catch quotas were off the job.

Though the shutdown is now a thing of the past, Colburn points to another issue at the center of an ongoing policy debate as his biggest fear for the future of crabbing: climate change.

“We are seeing it,” Colburn said. “In the last decade in Alaska, we've seen three of the warmest temperatures ever for water temperatures in the last hundred years, and we've seen three of the coldest temperature years. We're seeing these huge dips in cycles in our weather patterns in Alaska.”

The changes in the weather cycle, Colburn believes, have caused more dangerous storms in recent years. And it has also had implications for the crab -- and his business’ bottom line.

“Some years it's helping us. Cold years we have higher survival rates for our crab,” Colburn said. “When the water warms up, then it's bad news for the crab.”

Back onshore, there’s another political storm brewing in this year’s Alaska Senate race, where one-term Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is defending his seat in the red state against a crowded field of Republican challengers.

“There's a lot of money pouring in from all over the U.S. to support some of the Republican candidates,” Colburn said. “It'll get ugly out there.”

Colburn, for his part, is backing Begich for a second term.

“I like Sen. Begich,” Colburn said. “He's worked well on both sides of the aisle; he's worked well to support Alaska fisheries, energy. I think he's the right guy for the job.”

For more of the interview, and to find out what Captain Colburn’s favorite type of crab is and why, check out this episode of “Power Players.”

ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Tom Thornton, Gary Westphalen, Chris Carlson and Barry Haywood contributed to this episode.