Deadliest Catch is named that way for a reason; crab catching is no light piece of work

Quick Notes

  • Dutch Harbor in Alaska is a popular location for crab catching and fishing

  • It’s arduous work, with fishermen working day and night to catch their stock

  • Deadliest Catch is filmed in Dutch Harbor, and documents the herculean work the fishermen are put through

Dutch Harbor, Alaska, has been one of the most popular destinations for commercial fishing in the United States for over two decades. Recently, it’s been spotlighted on the popular TV show Deadliest Catch, which has undoubtedly highlighted the potential dangers associated with crab catching.

Deadliest Catch is notorious for its footage of extreme conditions and potentially ship-capsizing moments during the arduous process of crab catching. The show receives over three million views per week, making it one of the most popular shows on basic cable, and the reason for this popularity is all down to the extreme conditions the sailors endure.

From the crashing waves to the weary exhaustion inflicted upon the crew of the ship, Deadliest Catch displays the harsh reality of fishing in the Alaska harbor, but what it maybe doesn’t demonstrate is just how many shipwrecks there have been in Dutch Harbor alone.

Crab catching isn’t done with a peaceful line and some bait, but instead by chucking a bedroom overboard

Crab catching is a gargantuan task. Alaskan crab is caught in gigantic, baited pots, that weigh around eight hundred pounds and are probably the same size as two of your bedrooms, combined. They are tossed over the side of the fishing boat where crabs rush to the bait, not knowing that they’ll soon be heaved out of the ocean by the mechanism.

Unfortunately, the sophistication of these mechanisms isn’t as grand as you might expect, so when the enormous baited pots are hauled out of the sea, they are swung around by a crane. Not exactly the most desirable form of retrieval when you’re already swaying on a fishing boat in the notoriously rough Alaskan sea.

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These pots are hauled from waves as high as thirty feet, and the fishermen are tasked with the laborious effort of controlling the bedroom-sized crab-trap in winds well over a hundred kilometers per hour. It isn’t a career for the faint-hearted. If the work environment wasn’t enough to give you pause, the working hours are something else.

Often the fishermen aboard the ships will work up to forty hours at a time, day and night, to collect as many crabs from the baited pots as they can for when they return to land. In the colder months, the first two hours of any day will be spent chipping ice off of the ship. Such are the dangerous conditions.

The dangers of fishing are no joke, and Deadliest Catch doesn’t make light of it

Deadliest Catch doesn’t sanitize the tragedies that befall many of the men in this line of work, either. The very first season documents the sinking of Big Valley, wherein only one fisherman survived the wrecking. A variety of ships are featured on the series, which can make otherwise faceless fishermen very popular among viewers.

None of the show is exaggerated. Dutch Harbor shipwrecks aren’t an anomaly. In fact, there are a variety of websites dedicated to documenting the shipwrecks that do occur just off the coast of Dutch Harbor alone. One of the most recent wrecks was that of the enormous fishing ship Exito.

The numerous shipwrecks that occur at Dutch Harbor give testament to the sheer difficulty associated with fishing

As recently as 2016, the 117-foot long ship sank just at the entrance of Unalaska Bay. Three of the five crew aboard the vessel were rescued by nearby fishing boats, but the remaining two were reported as missing and were never found. In 2011, the Alaskan Leader was returning with 9000 pounds of cod following six weeks of fishing, only for a fire to break out and render the ship powerless.

The numerous shipwrecks that occur at Dutch Harbor give testament to the sheer difficulty associated with fishing and put a whole new spin on the thought process of where our food actually comes from. It’s certainly something to consider next time you order crab in a restaurant; it may well have once starred on Deadliest Catch.

A deeper dive – Related reading on the 101

Believe it or not, Dutch Harbor is becoming a popular tourist spot for cruise-goers, so it should probably be on this list

While the show may not sanitize any of its footage, it still has its fair share of secrets from its viewers

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