Crab fishing on the Bering Sea is one of the most hazardous professions on the planet. Days spent lugging around heavy equipment amid giant swells and icy blasts of sea-soaked air — it’s not for the faint of heart. The isolation of those remote waters, the winter months shrouded in darkness and prone to stormy skies, the high winds and ice-covered decks — all stack the deck for hypothermia, drowning and other life-threatening accidents. Despite the danger, there’s still a good bit of money to be made as a fisherman on the Bering Sea — provided you’re willing to pay your dues and work your way up.
Give Some Credit to the Greenhorns
Many crab fishermen start out as greenhorns, a brutally punishing job that involves performing some of the most menial and backbreaking tasks onboard. There’s an upside though — it’s like an apprenticeship for new fishermen looking to learn the ropes and prove they have what it takes. So what sort of skill set should potential fishermen possess?
If you’re willing to brave the dangers of becoming a fisherman on the choppy waters of the Bering Sea, the first step is to get a physical. Good health is critical; it’s bad enough dealing with the extreme cold and cumbersome equipment — doing so when you’re not in peak physical condition can be a death wish.
Potential candidates should also have good coordination and stamina. It’s all too easy to get caught off-guard by the heavy pots, nets and long coils of line, especially when the sea is rough and the hours stretch on. Patience and alertness are also important qualities out on the water, as well as the ability to think on your feet and make good use of your hands.
Getting Ready to Set Sail
Unless a candidate already knows someone in the business, it can be difficult landing that first job. The work is grueling, the quarters are close and the need for a strong team is imperative, so captains are generally reluctant to go out on a limb for someone who isn’t vouched for. New recruits without strong references can spend some time walking the docks, getting to know the captains and their crews, possibly landing a job that way — although slots are rare and if someone has left a crew it might be a warning more than a cause for celebration.
There are some training courses to initiate new fishermen into the industry, which mainly focus on safety issues. Commercial fishing licenses are also required to fish the seas off the Alaskan coast, and fishermen are typically asked to furnish their own licenses, as well as their own gear, for each voyage.
New hires should negotiate their work agreements carefully to make sure everything is laid out clearly and both parties know what to expect. The pay for a newcomer will generally range from 1.5 to 10 percent of the adjusted gross catch — and a lot of that leeway depends on the skills of the worker and the type of work being done. When payday comes, the paycheck of a Bering Sea fisherman can be fantastic or fairly disappointing, depending on the fisherman’s cut and the size of the haul.