Seven Months in Unalaska
Photos & Story by Mihael Blikshteyn
A Dutch Harbor, official name of Unalaska’s port, is often used as an endearing term for the town of Unalaska. To a local or a fisherman, it is “Dutch” - a wind-swept point at the neck of the Aleutian Chain, where weather changes hourly, brewing over treeless hills, and open water stretches as far as the eye can see.
In 2005, an opportunity to work as a field fishery biologist for the International Pacific Halibut Commission took me to Dutch Harbor for seven months. Halibut is the largest of all flatfish, and is a prized catch, the largest ever recorded being a 495-pound fish caught in Southeast Alaska. Its common name derives from Middle English, meaning "the flatfish to be eaten on holy days". A large halibut, weighing 300 pounds, could easily net $900 to the lucky fishermen.
The Real Deadliest Catch
As one of the largest fishery ports in the United States, and the main port for the Bering Sea crab fishery, Unalaska's economy is based on commercial fishing and fish processing. Walleye Pollock is the bread-and-butter of fish processors, while halibut, black cod and crab are the Belgian chocolate. With some king crab catcher-processors bringing in upwards of 300,000 pounds of slow-moving, deliciously golden king crab, and prices ranging from $4 to $5 a pound, the crab is still the king there! [note: This fishery was made famous by the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch series.]
I was intrigued by the vibrancy of red, yellow, orange of raingear, lines and buoy bags of crabbers getting ready to head out in the fall. They seemed focused and a bit anxious, not knowing how the season would play out.
A couple of weeks later crab boats begun appearing, fish holds packed with a live golden-reddish carpet of moving crab legs. The town was springing to life.
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