Crabbers can make tens of thousands of dollars or more for just a few months of work. The high salary expectations for crab fishermen are due to rough working conditions, the specialized skills required and a new quota system that increases their haul while lowering the risk of injury or death.
Alaskan crab fishermen with experience may earn up to $60,000 in just a few months, and some may make more than that in just a few days. Said Cade Smith, a crab fisherman in Alaska, "There was always a top boat where the crew members raked in $50,000 during the three- to five-day king crab season -- or $100,000 for the longer snow crab season." Crabbers who fish for snow crabs may make more than $200,000 a year. The profits of the boat are shared among the crew, with boat captains taking the most and boat greenhorns taking the least.
Deadly storms, treacherous waters, injuries and even death top a long list of adverse conditions for crabbers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and CNN cite crab fishing as the deadliest occupation in the country. Government intervention, however, has dramatically reduced the number of fatalities, but the job is not without its dangers and hardships. Most crabbers work on the Bering Sea, where the frigid temperatures can make a typical 21-hour shift lifting pots as heavy as 800 pounds even harder then it sounds. Crab fishermen are willing to brave such conditions, however, because of how much they can earn.
Boat captains must be competent enough to estimate their cost of operation and plan budgets for entire seasons if they are to make money. They must hire a crew of crabbers, oversee purchases of supplies, harvest crabs for consumption, contact and sell catches to buyers, monitor the proceeds of their sales, and distribute wages among the crew. The duties that crabbers routinely perform justify their high earning potential.
Factors Affecting Salaries
In 2006, a "quota-share" system was implemented by Alaska and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, an effort to reduce the danger of crabbing while increasing profits. Before the quota system, crabbers were more likely to pull traps early because of the intense competition from other fishermen. The were also more likely to fish during storms and overload ships with traps, causing them to capsize. Now, crab boat captains can buy quotas from other crabbers, reducing the number of boats during the season and resulting in fewer crabs lost to overzealous tactics and capsizing. Also, crabs come to market more gradually, yielding higher and more consistent paydays for crabbers.