Alaskan King Crab fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations around. The fatality rate of these workers is 90 times higher than the average worker. These giant crabs are harvested during the wintertime off the coast of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska.
The season is very short to avoid overfishing. Millions of pounds of Alaskan crab can be caught in a day. The Red King Crab is prized for its meat, so it is where Alaskan Crab legs tend to come from the most.
Besides the Red King Crab in Alaska, there are also the Blue King Crab, the Golden King Crab, and the Scarlet King Crab. This last crab is too small and rare to be sold commercially. During the fishing season, specific requirements on size have to be met, and usually, males are the only ones that are kept.
This fishing season can vary in length from year to year and will depend on the population of the Alaskan King Crabs being harvested. For instance, one year, the season was only able to last four days due to the low population numbers.
Fishing for these giant crabs is such an exciting event that there is a documentary television show that has been on air for many years. The fishing process that takes place during the winter months is filmed and then aired in the spring of that same year. It is shown in many countries and continues to draw a large number of viewers.
Hard to catch
Catching these crabs is no easy feat. Commercial fishers use boats that are 40 to 250 feet in length. These boats have a hydraulic system that is used to lift the crabs out of the water after they’ve entered the trap. The trap is a steel frame covered by a nylon mesh and is known only as of the pot.
This trap weighs between 600 to 800 pounds when it is empty and a single boat can have anywhere between 150 to 300 traps on it. Bait is placed inside the trap and then lowered to the bottom of the ocean. Fish are the most common bait to use, especially codfish or herring.
The Red and Blue King Crabs live around 100 fathoms, and the Golden King Crabs are found between 100 to 400 fathoms. One hundred fathoms is the same as 600 feet. Each trap is marked with a buoy that floats on the surface so that the trap is easy to find when it’s time to haul it up after a day or two.
Once the crabs are brought to the surface, the fishermen have to sort them out. If any crab doesn’t meet the regulations set, then it is tossed back into the water. The crabs that do meet the requirements are stored in a holding tank to keep them alive as the ship makes its way to shore.
Keeping the crabs alive in these tanks is extremely important. If the crabs freeze, they may burst. When a dead crab is left in the water too long, it can actually poison the water and ruin the entire catch. Also, these crabs can be cannibalistic at times, so if a dead crab is left inside the tank, the others will begin to feed on it.
The Red King Crab is called Paralithodes camtschaticus. Since this is the main one used for meat, it is often the most expensive to purchase. This type of king crab doesn’t actually turn red until it is cooked. When it is living, it is more burgundy in color. The size of these king crabs can be highly impressive. The body, or carapace, alone can measure 11 inches across.
Crab leg length is important!
When the leg length is added to this, the entire span can reach up to 6 feet. When sold for meat, Alaskan King Crab is measured according to the number of legs needed to make up 10 pounds. For instance, purchasing King Crab legs that are size 6-9 means that it takes between 6 to 9 legs to make 10 pounds.
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The larger the number, the more legs are needed to make up the desired 10 pounds. So, when purchasing King Crab legs, go for the smaller size number. King Crab that is purchased in a store is usually already cooked but frozen. Preparing this type of crab legs means a simple reheating process is all that is needed.
If they are frozen, then they need to be thawed first. Once they have thawed completely they may be boiled for 4 to 8 minutes. The only time that King Crab wouldn’t be already cooked is if the crab is purchased alive. If the legs came from the freezer section, then they are already cooked.
Alaskan Crab legs can be cracked open with special crab leg crackers. The pieces of meat usually come out easily enough, but there are special forks made for digging down deep inside the smaller portions of the legs. The meat is usually dipped in some melted butter after it is retrieved from the leg segments.