March 18, 2014
Almost everyone interested in the commercial fishing industry is now familiar with Discovery Channel’s hit reality series "Deadliest Catch." The show is entertaining, the cinematography is superb, the characters are portrayed as both villainous and heroic and it’s filmed in one of the most brutal environments in the world. To average Americans sitting in front of their televisions, "Deadliest Catch" is an interesting documentary in a historically ignored industry. However, there has been a big problem developing in one of Alaska's most iconic fisheries as a result of the show and legislation known as Bering Sea Crab Rationalization.
It's obvious why the show has enjoyed such success, and I commend the captains, crew and boat owners who have been involved in the series over the last decade. But the fleet that appears on "Deadliest Catch" is creating a problem for the 65 or more other crab boats whose crews depend on the Bering Sea crab resource for financial survival but don't appear on television.
Alaska’s Bering Sea crab fleet has had a rich and tumultuous history. The king crab boom of the 1970s generated exorbitant profits for all who participated; however, the king crab crash of the 1980s saw these same players scrambling to keep their businesses afloat through diversification into other fisheries. Fortunately, the opilio crab fishery emerged as a saving grace to the struggling king crab fleet from the mid 1980s and well into the 1990s. As the opilio quotas dwindled in the late 1990s, different management plans were discussed to end the Olympic-style fishery that Bering Sea crabbers had perfected.