The Bering Sea is a treacherous body of water that separates the United States from Russia. Thousands of ships have sunk in these icy waters, taking their crews down with them into the depths below. The crab fishermen who brave this rough sea are considered some of the most courageous people on earth. They face daunting challenges and risk their lives every day – but for many, it’s worth it.
There are many ways to earn a living on the Bering Sea. You can be an independent crabber, work for a fishery as a greenhorn, or fish for salmon or other species of fish that swim in Alaska’s frigid water as a hobby.
If you intend to treat this as a career and want to learn how to become a crab fisherman on the Bering Sea this is the article for you. Continue reading as we lay out step-by-step how to get started.
How to Become a Crab Fisherman in Alaska in 6 Steps
1. Get a fishing boat and crab pots
To get started you will need a boat and specialized equipment including crab pots, crab bait, traps and more.
Establish how you intend to fish and outline what you will need. This will inform how much capital you will need to get started, this should factor in your fishing license, your boat, as well as operational costs (staff, diesel, payroll, etc), and any additional items you believe will arise.
Crab pots can be found online or at most businesses providing equipment to fisheries.
A boat can be purchased used, from the manufacturer, or at your local boat dealer. If you are after a commercial fishing vessel like those featured on the Deadliest catch you may want to check out the builder of their current boat, Seattle-based Blue North Fisheries.
2. Apply for your license at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Before you begin fishing in the Bering Sea you will need to ensure you and your crew have the correct licenses in place.
This is important as the licensing for commercial fishing is different than trapping/ fishing as an individual.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is responsible for issuing fishing licenses to all Alaskan citizens.
You can apply by visiting their website or in person at the nearest office, which you will find on your state’s page here for Commercial licensing information: https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fishlicense.started
The license costs for a person are $100 per year if purchased before March 31st but increases significantly after that date ($200).
Commercial licensing costs will vary depending on your role, as a boat owner, you will need to license your vessel, get licenses to catch and sell, and get the appropriate business registration documents.
As a greenhorn or employee, you will need to obtain a crewmember licence.
If this seems expensive it might be worth considering a cheaper alternative such as crab pots instead! Crabbing requires no licensing fees so long are
Looking to learn more about crabbing in other US states? Check out our article on crabbing in Oregon.
3. Find a crew of 3-5 people to work with you on the boat
Working on a boat is no easy task. You need to have the right people in your crew and all of them working together as a team to make sure that everything gets done efficiently and safely.
Crews are typically made up of 3-5 people, depending on the size of the boat you’re sailing or working on, but you’ll always want at least three so one person can be designated as captain while another takes care of the steering.
Having candidates who have worked in the crabbing and fishing industry can be incredibly helpful, but there are no mandatory certifications or qualifications.
4. Establish your budget before you go, including food, fuel, bait, gear, etc
Budgeting for your fishing trips is important and can be done by estimating the costs of fuel per hour, bait cost depending on how much you’ll need to buy ahead or if it’s available in port where your boat will dock.
You may also want to factor in gear rental fees based on an average hourly rate that includes all equipment needed like nets with handles which are usually rented out separately from other items such as crab pots.
Food may vary between crew members but should include some sort of breakfast before leaving harbour so they don’t get hungry while working!
If you intend to be out for days at a time (which is more common with commercial fishing) you will need to account for food & supplies for the extended time period.
5. Prepare to set sail and fish crab on the Bering Sea
The Bering Sea is one of the most dangerous fishing grounds in the world.
One of its many hazards is that it’s home to some of the fiercest waves in all of Alaska, and fishermen need to be prepared for anything when they set out on a boat.
Once you’re ready with the right crew, equipment, licenses, supplies and most of all, knowledge get out there and get crabbing.
Your success as a crab fisherman will largely be determined by the size of your catch so keeping an eye out for good areas to crab is important.
5. Alternative: Get a job as a Greenhorn on a boat
It’s common to get started as a crab fisherman by working on someone else’s boat as a “Greenhorn”.
This often involves picking up all the tasks other crew members don’t want to do. For most getting into the business, it’s viewed somewhat as an apprenticeship, so finding the right crew is also an important consideration.
As a candidate, you will need to prove that you can handle the tough conditions onboard, and will typically require a reference or two to get on a boat.
Additionally, you will be required to have your crewmembers license, which is available from the Alaska Department of Fish And Game, and your own gear.
Pay is generally based on a percentage of the adjusted gross catch with junior crew members typically taking home 1.5 – 10% of the overall haul.
As a result, your ability to also negotiate a fair wage for yourself will be important, and you must be prepared to take home nothing some days.
Now get out there and start fishing
Disregarding the dangers crab fishing on the Bering Sea poses becoming a crab fisherman can be a great choice if you’re looking for a job that keeps you active, outdoors, and on the sea.
With the money to be made it’s well worth the commitment and requires but your determination to get started.