>Port call with the Deadliest Catch – Commanding Officer

>We’re just wrapping up a Dutch Harbor port call. Dutch Harbor is a mountainous island midway down the Aleutian Island chain with a rugged beauty. Dutch is perhaps the busiest fishing port in the United States and is the central fishery processing point for Pollack, Pacific Cod, Opilio (Snow) Crab…and Red King Crab. Dutch is remote, typically cold and snow covered, windy, small, and expensive. While in port, crew activities usually include hiking when the weather is good, hunting for some, shopping at one of the two outfitter stores, sometimes roller hockey, then at night drinking in one of the town’s two bars. Coasties and fishermen tolerate each other just fine at these watering holes and even swap sea stories as the night goes on. Disagreements are rare and people typically remain with their groups, mind their business, and generally relax for a bit. That’s the typical Dutch Harbor experience I know. But this visit was different.

Exciting is not an adjective I would normally use to describe Dutch Harbor. It just isn’t. But I have to say the events of the last two days was like Hollywood came to this little island. Today, at noon, marks the opening of the red king crab season and also marks the beginning of the filming of season five of America’s Deadliest Catch. The popularity of the show and the show’s characters are favorites among most of the crew. Dutch was seemingly alive with the crab boats loading thousands of crab pots, film crews loading and rigging their gear aboard the boats that are featured in the show, and a helo flying around getting aerial shots of boats, weather, and the community, and even our ship. Some of our crew took advantage of this rare occasion by meeting some of the boat captains and actually visiting the boats.

Red king crab season is short lived. The season begins today but will close once this year’s weight limit (Total Allowable Catch (TAC)) is harvested. This year’s TAC is set at 20.3 million pounds. This might seem like a lot but just one boat can hold over 100,000 pounds when full, so the whole TAC is usually caught before Thanksgiving. In years past, fisherman would catch their crab in a derby-style free-for-all. On opening day they would race out to the fishing grounds (100 miles northeast of Dutch) then catch as much crab as possible before the season closed. This caused people to go out in even the worst weather because the season is so limited and profits would be lost if they spent time sheltering from storms. This is how the crabbing industry earned the dubious title of America’s most dangerous profession. Many boats and lives lost in this modern day gold rush. A few years ago the fishing management scheme of “Rationalization” was introduced which established catch weight totals for each boat or fish processor. Because of this the need to go out in the worst weather conditions has diminished significantly.

Today is a good example of Rationalization working to provide safety. The seas offshore are expected to be rough today so most of the crab boats are waiting for the storm to pass before heading out. As for us, we will head out anyway. A few boats have decided to go and we will just tag along just in case.

Today’s pictures shows three of the Deadliest Catch boats heading out of Dutch harbor, plus three of our crew (CWO John Leaming, BMC Ryan Craven, and SK1 Jeff Leahy) visiting Time Bandit and Northwestern in port.

Commander Jones