King Crab

source: TIME, April 7th, 1967 

Nine miles off Alaska’s Kachemak Bay, Skipper Gene Cameron and his two crewmen maneuvered the 40-ft. Kathy C. along a string of buoys and hauled crab pots, one at a time, from the bottom, 100 ft. below. By day’s end, the trawler’s tanks were crawling with 6,624 lbs. of Alaskan king crab, which were promptly delivered to a Wakefield Seafoods, Inc., processing plant. Such pickings, by Kathy C. and a fleet of 40 other crabbers, have made Wakefield’s founder, Lowell Wakefield, the leader of the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. fishing industry.

Since 1956, the U.S. king-crab catch has grown from barely 9,000,000 lbs. to 150 million lbs.; it is expected to keep rising by 20% a year for the foreseeable future. Most popular on the East Coast, the king crab averages a 4-ft. claw-to-claw spread. Its claw and leg meat (the body is not used) is somewhat tougher than blue crab, tastes remarkably like lobster, and retails at $2 per lb., which is far cheaper than either.

Whatever the meat’s merits, the industry owes its growth to Crab King Wakefield, 57, son of an Alaska salmonand-herring pioneer. Wakefield prepped at his father’s processing plant at Port Wakefield on remote Afognak Island, struck out on his own after World War II to exploit the vast and virtually untouched king-crab grounds on Alaska’s continental shelf. Though Japanese fleets had been catching and canning the huge crabs for years, Wakefield determined to try freezing the meat, on the theory that “when you are so far from the market that your costs are relatively high, your only hope is a product of the highest quality.”

“Having Trouble?” Wakefield started with $50,000 capital in 1945, two years later launched his specially designed trawler, Deep Sea, a 140-footer equipped to catch, cook, freeze, pack and otherwise do just about everything but sell king crab. And selling turned out to be the big problem. “I found there wasn’t one chef in a hundred who would bother to try it,” says Wakefield. To stir up enthusiasm, he hired a Manhattan promoter who dumped the original wishy-washy “Ocean Frosted” brand name in favor of “Wakefield’s” Alaska King Crab Meat. The change worked, and Wakefield turned his first profit ($73,000) in 1952; according to preliminary estimates his company, which is now publicly owned, earned $450,000 last year on sales of $9,500,000.

Even though other processors are now in the act, Wakefield still claims more than a commanding 25% share of U.S. frozen-crab sales. This month he will open a new, $1,000,000 packing plant at Seldovia, on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. In all, he is spending $3,500,000 in rebuilding and expansion programs. Meanwhile, supply cannot keep up with demand, and the word from Wakefield’s comes through advertising. “Are you having trouble finding Wakefield’s King Crab?” queries one recent full-pager. “So are we.”

TIME link

This entry was posted in Crab Fisheries, Crabbing History. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to King Crab

  1. Lowell Wakefield’s spirit and legacy live on in the form of a generous endowment from the Wakefield estate that supports the Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium Series at the Alaska Sea Grant Program. Learn more at:
    http://seagrant.uaf.edu/conferences/wakefield/index.html

  2. Could I get a link to this website for tourist attraction Sea Star Tours currently located in Ketchikan Alaska? Larry Hendricks

  3. opilia says:

    Hello Larry H. –Absolutely! Use this link,
    https://deadliestreports.wordpress.com/

    It’s nice to see you’ve been here. Mike (deckape) stops in every now and then to do a little reading as well!

  4. Jamie says:

    Hi there, i was just looking into king crab fishing as a career and having watched the deadliest catch, i would love to work on the northwestern or a similar boat. could you please give me some more info??

    Jamie

  5. opilia says:

    Hi Jamie. My first link listed under “About Working in Alaska” (over in the sidebar) goes directly to the Northwestern’s website where they have their own advice on trying to get work on a crab fishing boat. I would read that first and then start researching if it sounds good to you.

  6. Trent Lamb says:

    I am a big fan of the Hillstrands and even live close to one of them. Capt Andy as he is called. Good luck to all of them and a succesful season. If possible I would like a picture of the crew.

    Trent Lamb
    1018 N. Fulton Ave.
    Evansville, IN 47710

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s