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.”