Imagine you're aboard a 128-foot (39-meter) steel fishing vessel bobbing in the frigid waters of Alaska's Bering Sea. Despite sub-freezing temperatures, 30-foot (9-meter) waves, 60-knot winds, and darkness, you're expected to don your wet-weather gear and man the icy deck, where you manage dozens of 700-pound (318-kilogram) steel traps, or "pots." As a rigging cable whips by and nearly knocks you off your feet, you're reminded that about a dozen people in your profession die every year. These conditions may sound like a nightmare, but they're a reality for the crews of Alaska's 80 crab-fishing boats. They accept the risks because the reward can be sizable -- in a good year, deckhands can make $100,000 for just a couple months of work!
The unpredictable weather off of Alaska's coast is the greatest danger that crab fishermen face. The most lucrative crab seasons occur in the fall and winter, when the storms are especially fierce and the cold is especially brutal. At temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 degrees Celsius), spray from the choppy seas freezes on every surface of the boat, making the strenuous work of crab fishing even more difficult. The ice also threatens the stability of the boat, adding up to 45 tons of weight to the pots alone. Because of these dangers, crew members are constantly using sledgehammers to break the frozen spray off of the boat during cold weather.
In case laboring on the rocking, icy deck of a crab fishing vessel isn't dangerous enough, deckhands must often work long, exhausting shifts. With seasons often lasting less than four weeks, the pressure to meet the boat's catch quota is intense; captains sometimes push their crews to work 40 out of every 50 hours when the fishing is especially good. The resulting fatigue can cause workers to become careless and be pulled overboard by a loose rope, mangled by heavy machinery, or crushed by swinging crab traps.
Between 2000 and 2009, an average of 12 crab fisherman died each year [source: CDC]. Read on to see if those filming crab fishing have fared any better.