Preserving Kodiak's Maritime Heritage
When Crab Was King
The Rise and Fall of the Kodiak King Crab Fishery, 1950-1982
A radio project of the Kodiak Maritime museum presented as a series of three-minute audio shows based on interviews with Kodiak fishermen, processor workers, and others who lived and worked this amazing, short-lived, fishery.
As the King Crab fishery peaked in the mid-1960s, everyone in Kodiak knew that something extraordinary was happening. Millions of pounds of crabs were coming across the docks, new state of the art crab boats arrived every week, thousands of young people were suddenly in town, and fortunes were being made and spent with equal abandon. But while the work was lucrative- $100,000 crewshares were not unheard of- the fishery was extremely dangerous too, and boats and men were lost at sea on a regular basis every winter. These elements of youth and money and danger made Kodiak an exhilarating place to be.
And then, in 1982, it ended. The crab went away, for reasons still not fully understood. People moved on to other fisheries, to other occupations, or off the island. The fishermen got older and began raising families. The town quieted down. But the stories remained, filtering through the collective memory of Kodiak and other fishing communities along Alaska’s Gulf coast and down to Seattle, stories of huge catches and crazy paychecks, of wild behavior and hard, hard work, of being young and invincible, of a fishery that seemed at the time to be forever. It was that feeling, those stories, which Kodiak Maritime Museum has tried to capture in its oral history of the fishery, before the people who lived them went away themselves.
But while the oral history project has been very successful in preserving the stories and creating an audience for them in Kodiak and beyond, the museum realized early on that some visual element would help people more fully appreciate the Kodiak King Crab boom years. To that end, in 2010 museum staff began thinking about ways to show the faces of the people in the oral histories. The intent was to somehow present the congruence of the present and the past in each image- and the result became these middle aged or elderly men and women standing before the camera in a black and white present, their hands holding smaller color images of themselves taken decades before, when the crab fishery was booming and they were young themselves. Through the spring of 2011 museum staff worked with a local photographer, Alf Pryor, and dozens of Kodiak residents to produce the images you see here.
The staff and board of KMM strongly believe that a history museum must be not merely a keeper of the past, but also be relevant to the community it serves in the present. For communities to appreciate and value their history and culture, that history and culture must be nurtured and interpreted- the link between what was and what is must constantly be made new. Including communities in the process of interpreting their own past is a very good way to do that. When the people you see here came into the museum to record their voices and to make these images they became participants in the interpretive process itself. Their participation has enabled the museum to organically reconstruct and present the past they lived through from within the consciousness and memory of the community they are a part of.