Preserving Kodiak's Maritime Heritage

Alaskan Crab Fishing: Harvest from the Icy Depths

Crab fishing in Alaska is serious business, especially in the winter. As the photos illustrate, fishermen work day and night in rough weather and and freezing temperatures to pull crabs from the bottom of the North Pacific and Bering Sea. The hours are long, the work is hard and dangerous, but the money is good. Photos: Karen Ducey

The Ice

The frozen sea spray burns like tiny daggers stabbing any exposed skin. Squalls can cake ice inches thick on anything on deck, causing a vessel to flip from the top-heavy weight. The answer is simple. You just have to pound it off with sledge hammers or baseball bats. And all this from decks like skating rinks and a boat swaying in towering seas.

Keep Going

When the fishing’s good, you keep going. Extreme fatigue, exhaustion and pain are prices to be paid. But you are a member of a team. Letting the captain down, the crew down, is not an option.

The “Aleutian Stare”

By the time you get a break, lifting a fork may take two hands. Your ghostly, gaunt face and focusless eyes say everything. That’s crabbing in the Bering Sea.

Resourceful Fishermen

When salmon runs declined during the 1950s and 1960s, local fishermen rebuilt and refitted their boats to capitalize on the lucrative crab fishery near Kodiak.

Later, mariners built 100-foot steel vessels to fish unprotected waters offshore during the fall and winter. The fishery thrived in the 1960s and 1970s until stocks crashed in 1983. The fishery was closed.

Changes in water temperature, an increase in predation, disease, and commercial fishing were likely contributors. Today, Kodiak’s crabbers must travel to the Bering Sea to fish.

Crab fishing in Alaska is statistically the most dangerous job in America.

But every year, Kodiak crabbers are there—out west—wresting crab from the bottom of the sea.


Dungeness Crab

(Cancer magister)

Dungeness Crab are oval-shelled, short-legged crab fished from smaller boats in waters surrounding Kodiak Island.

Tanner Crab (bairdi)

(Chionoecetes bairdi)

Bairdi reach an average size of two to four pounds. Males and females live separately during most of the year. Eggs are incubated in the female for a year. She can lay a clutch of more than 400,000 eggs.

Tanner Crab (opilio)

Chionecetes opilio

Opilio, known as snow crab, average about two pounds. The most consistently abundant crab in alaska, opilio live up to 14 years, reaching commercial size in 7-11 years.

King Crab

(Paralithodes camtschaticus)

King Crab are the largest of the crab species. Weighing an average of six pounds, kings sport wicket, powerful, thorny claws. The largest king on record was a 30-year-old, 25-pound monster with a leg span of six feet.