Forty-foot waves, 700 pound crab pots, freezing temperatures and your mortality staring you in the face…it's all in a day's work for these modern day prospectors. During each episode we will watch crews race to meet their quota and make it home safely.
It's the first day of work at the world's deadliest job. Approximately 1,500 fishermen and 250 boats have converged on Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for the 2005 Alaskan king crab season. Each individual old salts and greenhorns alike ” is here to stake his claim on the 14 million pounds of crab that the season is expected to yield, and the chance to earn a year's wages in just one week. To that end, each boat's captain has his own strategy for success.With a radio countdown, the season begins and the first pots are dumped into the sea. It will be many hours before all the pots are set and even longer before anyone rests. But soon after the start, the stabilizer breaks on one of the boats, forcing its crew to fish with a potentially deadly problem. For others, it's fish guts and crab pots as they desperately grasp for their piece of the $80 million king crab pie.
After a long, sleepless night of baiting and setting crab pots, the fishermen anxiously await the captain's call to begin hauling them in. What's in the first pot of the season as it's pulled onto the deck sets the mood for the crew, and the questions on everyone's mind are who's got crab and where are they fishing?Some boats are ""on the crab,"" while others are ""pulling blanks."" The early losers agonize over strategy, hoping to make up for lost catch, while the winners try to figure out how to keep the crab coming. Others just want to start fishing ... One boat has broken the bin boards in its storage tank, which must be fixed before they can pull in their first pot. Every minute spent repairing broken equipment costs the crew serious money, and the greenhorns learn quickly that there's no sympathy for fatigue.
It's hour 42 of the Alaskan king crab season and every captain feels the pressure, especially since the Alaska Department of Fish and Game just announced an early closure to the season. Each boat has 24 hours to pull out the pots they have in the water â€” and every one of the final pots count. The fishermen either find crab today, or give up their chance at a profitable season; the results can affect these men and their families for the entire year.All of the boats in the fleet face challenges: One captain, nervous about the spot he's chosen to fish, decides to take a gamble on a new location, while another grapples with an injured crew member. And worst of all, some boats still have no crab to show despite the continuous efforts made by their captains and crew.
With less than half a day left in the Alaskan king crab season, the crews race the clock to get as much crab into the holding tanks as they can. Bad luck and mechanical malfunctions still plague some captains, who need to land a certain number of crabs just to cover their operating expenses, much less to turn a profit for the crew.As the midnight deadline marking the end of season closes in, the battle to unload begins. Boats are unloaded at the processing plants on a first-come, first-serve basis, and a couple of minutes can mean the difference between unloading immediately, or waiting in the harbor for days.
Opilio crab season is about to begin, and the forecast is glacial and dangerous. On a cold, rainy January day â€” when sunlight lasts just six hours â€” 171 boats begin the journey out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, sailing up to 450 miles northwest of the small town in search of crab. But shortly after he leaves port, smoke and heat force one captain to surrender valuable time to turn around for repairs, only to discover that an EIRB, or emergency signal, has rung out from a sister boat. Meanwhile, gale warnings buzz over the radio, alerting captains of treacherous ice conditions â€” ice that, if allowed to build up on the crab pots, could capsize a boat.Finally, at noon, the Opilio crab season begins, and the fleet is forced to put their emotions aside and begin fishing.
With one boat sunk and its crew missing, several Good Samaritan boats postpone their season to comb the frigid waters of the Bering Sea for survivors. The tragic news travels fast, but captains too far away to help with the search and rescue decide to concentrate on the baiting and setting of pots. As the remaining 170 boats in the fleet turn their attention to fishing, though, tragedy strikes again. A frantic call comes in over the radio from a boat whose deckhand has fallen overboard. The reality of another death strikes a nervous chord throughout the fleet and keeps everyone on edge as they continue to chase America's deadliest catch.
Less than a day into the Opilio crab season, the Bering Sea has already claimed six lives. Despite these losses, the rest of the fleet begins to pull the pots they set 12 hours before, their hopes high. As the weather turns for the better, fishing is made easier, and for the first time this season, there is a moment of calm on the Bering Sea.
Unseasonably warm weather and calm seas have contributed to three days of record catches for the fleet. It's not all smooth sailing for one boat, however, when an electrical fire breaks out in the engine room and its crew must scramble to fix the problem before safely returning to fishing. But as the fourth day of the season gets under way, the continued high number of crabs spurs rumors of an early closure, with every captain speculating on when the quota will be met.
Eighty-four hours into the Opilio season, the hunt for crab intensifies as rumors of a possible closure prompt the men to push even harder. Some boats are so successful their captains begin wondering where to put excess crab, while others, finally hitting the "honey hole", try to make up for their slow start. But throughout the fleet crews begin to fatigue as the pending season closure drives them forward. This is the last time they will fish in a derby-style competition, and everyone wants to make their final run a memorable one.
With the deaths of the Big Valley crew, this Opilio crab season has been a rough one. On every boat, crew members are reaching their limit, but are spurred on by the pressure to catch a year's wages in the next 24 hours. As the last hours of the season tick down, a new race begins: the race back to port. Since off-loading is done on a first-come-first-serve basis, captains must decide when and where to unload their catch, competing for the best spot in line at the processor. Crab can't last forever in a boat, so a few days waiting could mean tens of thousands of dollars.