When Crab Was King:
The Rise and Fall of the Kodiak King Crab Fishery
The story behind the project
No one is sure why massive amounts of King Crab suddenly appeared in the waters off Kodiak Island, Alaska waters 1940s and 1950s. And no one is sure why they suddenly disappeared in the early 1980s. Natural ecosystem cycling and overfishing have both been implicated. One thing is sure however- the resulting Kodiak King Crab fishery was legendary. Each year for more than twenty-five years, millions of pounds of the huge crab, some of them six feet across, were harvested in the stormy waters of the Gulf of Alaska. Thousands of people came to Kodiak to catch and process the crabs, and hundreds of vessels were converted from other fisheries or built new as crab fishing boats.
The impact on the town of Kodiak was immediate and profound. In a few years, Kodiak grew from a sleepy fishing town to one of the biggest, busiest fishing ports in the United States. People poured into Kodiak. The boat harbor overflowed with boats and the waterfront was transformed with dozens of new processing plants. Housing got tight, hardware and grocery businesses boomed, and bars were jammed with fishermen as king crab money washed through the town.
And then suddenly, after two decades of abundance, the king crab stocks around Kodiak began to disappear. Each year fishermen found fewer and fewer crab in their pots and had to look harder to find them. From annual season harvests of 100 million pounds in the 1960s, the catches diminished until, after one last king crab season in the fall of 1982, the fishery was shut down.
The radio series began in 2007 as an effort to record the voices of fisherman, processing workers and Kodiak townspeople who lived though the King Crab years in Kodiak. Kodiak Maritime Museum talked with dozens of people and the resulting interviews now constitute a unique record of one of the world’s great fishing booms. The complete interviews are digitally archived at the museum and all of the radio shows produced from the original interviews are posted here on the website.
The three minute weekly radio programs first aired on Kodiak radio stations KVOK and KMXT in May 2008, the 50th anniversary of the Kodiak King Crab Festival. The festival originally took place in early May after the winter crab season had closed and fishermen were back in town. The festival is now held on Memorial Day weekend. Fifty-two original and “best of,” episodes ran from May 2008 to May 2009. Since then, the series has been running as repeats. The shows are available free to any radio station for broadcast.
Funding for the program came from the Alaska Humanities Forum, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the people of Kodiak. The museum is seeking funding to produce another year’s worth of original programming, beginning in January 2010.
For more information on the project, or if you have a King Crab memory to share, contact the Kodiak Maritime Museum at (907) 486-0384 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"When Crab Was King" is one of many oral history projects nationwide which seek to record the first-hand experiences of commercial fishermen and their communities. Find more on the National Marine Fisheries Services "Voices from the Fisheries" website http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/voicesfromthefisheries/