Fishtory | When Crab Was King

The history of King Crab fishing in Alaska is an incredible story that spans only a couple of generations.  The Japanese  were the first to harvest King crab with tangle nets in tiny schooners.  A few small US King crab trawl operations harvested crab throughout the 40’s and 50’s with mediocre  success.  In 1959, Alaska took control on the fishery and a plant was opened in Adak the following year.  Lowell Wakefield is credited with being the father of the red king crab industry.   His ingenuity and perseverance embodies the spirit of commercial fishing.  These early efforts paved the way for the boom in king crab production.   By 1966, peak production of 135 million pounds  of king crab were harvested, with a value of 31,665,000 dollars.  There were roughly 300 U.S. vessels that year, with 1,200 crew members.

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King crab production suffered many dramatic decreases in the following years.  Many fisheries were closed and numerous management plans were put in place to combat the decline.  On the brighter side, the value of King crab continued to rise, as demand for the quality product increased prices.  In the late 70’s and early 80’s, the King crab harvest bounced back with huge hauls and booming prices.  This was the second coming of the king crab fishery.  Crew shares soared and boats were bought and sold with ease.  Sadly, the good times rarely last.  By 1983, king crab suffered its largest declines from which the fishery has never recovered.   Crab Rationalization was instituted in 2005, which allows for more safety and timely delivery of product.  Gone are the days of the grueling “derby” fishing and record crew shares.   These days, the fishery is at its height of popularity, due to the hit reality show on Discovery Channel.  The Deadliest Catch has brought the crab fishery to the living rooms of the world, but few know the rich history that surrounds this industry.  Explore this timeline and video  to get a better impression of “When Crab Was King.”

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