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Which is more dangerous: crab fishing or filming crab fishing?

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Dangers of Crab Fishing Boats

Like crab fishing, filming crab fishing has proven to be quite profitable, as the Discovery Channel show "Deadliest Catch" draws 3 million weekly viewers in the United States and is now broadcast in 150 countries. However, the show poses many special challenges for the camera crew, which must operate during the same harsh weather and around the same hazardous equipment as the fishermen.

Filming crab fishing off of Alaska's coast poses a unique set of challenges that demands an experienced team of cameramen and producers both on land and at sea. A production team is based in Unalaska to edit tape and piece together storylines, while helicopters and boats take footage of the ships as they leave the harbor. It is the two-person cameraman/producer team placed on each boat, however, that captures most of the footage and faces most of the danger.

The quandary faced by the film crew is that the harsh conditions that make Alaskan crab fishing so interesting to watch also make it difficult and dangerous to film. Moisture in the air and freezing temperatures wreak havoc on the electrical equipment. Despite the best attempts to waterproof the Sony HDV cameras, salty ocean spray finds its way into parts that conduct electricity, causing corrosion. By the end of the season, only a handful of the 50 or so cameras the crew started with still work. Even when the film team manages to stay dry, condensation often forms on the lens and freezes, making it very difficult to get a clear shot. Icy conditions coupled with the rocking of the boat also represent a challenge for the crew, who must look through the camera to see what they are filming. LCD viewing screens make this easier and safer, but this precaution hasn't prevented cameramen from breaking ribs and spraining ankles. Those who film crab fishing also face exhaustion. Cameramen may film up to 40 hours at a time and will often get up before and go to sleep after the crew in order to film their entire workday.

Which, then, is more dangerous: crab fishing or filming crab fishing? That's difficult to say, since no cameraman has died on the job, but there's no question that each activity involves a king-crab-sized amount of danger.

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