I'll never look at seafood the same way after chatting with legendary Alaskan king crab fisherman Edgar Hansen — engineer and deckhand of the acclaimed Northwestern fishing vessel and one of the stars of the documentary series Deadliest Catch, which is in the midst of its eighth season on the Discovery Channel.
In town for a special appearance at the West Marine boating store in Kemah over the weekend, Hansen and his wife Louise joined me for lunch at Goode Company Seafood off Kirby where I'd hear more about one of the world's most dangerous jobs. Not too surprisingly, he opted for shrimp gumbo and a grilled chicken salad rather than the stuffed crab platter.
"Knock on wood, seriously," Hansen said, as he discussed the accident-prone work day on the Northwestern. "We run one of the safest boats in the Bering Sea, but stuff happens on a regular basis for fishermen out there."
Rogue waves, especially during the opilio crab season in January and February, can strike a crew at any moment. A slip off an icy deck means certain death with waters just above freezing. According to the pilot episode of Deadliest Catch, the death rate during the crab season typically averages one fisherman a week.
"Knock on wood, seriously," Ha nsen said, when asked to discuss some of his jobs more danger aspects. "We run one of the safest boats in the Bering Sea, but stuff happens on a regular basis for fishermen out there."
On the plus side, regular season payouts often top $120,000 for a small crew, a financial reality that has made the Alaska fishing industry a modern day gold rush.
"By comparison, salmon fishing is almost like a vacation for us in the summer," Hansen said. "It's still hard work, but you'll see guys out there barbecuing in their shorts. It's a big difference to getting crab in the fall and winter."
Due to time constraints at Alaska canneries and the limited lifespan of the creatures once they're caught, king crab fishing is a fast-paced occupation as crews work almost around the clock with little sleep until boats are full. Traps (or "pots") weigh upwards of 850 pounds and can only be lifted by a hydraulic crane that dangles the steel cages above the fishermen, who, in turn, place the bait inside and move them into place at the edge of the ship.
On the plus side, regular seasonal payouts often top $ 1 20,000 for a small crew, a financial reality that has made the Alaska fishing industry a modern day gold rush.
Physically drained, getting a maximum of four hours of sleep a night, Hansen shares stories of crews that push themselves for days on end, only to drop off a big catch to a cannery and return straight to a new fishing area hundreds of miles away.
Back on the boat, Hansen discusses the non-lethal but occasionally painful work of handling angry crustaceans that measure up to two feet across.
"You can get about $50 for a nice king crab," he said. "When you get bit by one, you never want to kill it. You just sit there, cry like a little baby and put your hand back in the water tank on the boat until it lets go. If you rip off the claw when you're all mad, the muscle in the claw will contract even more and pitch down even harder.
"You try not to scream, because there are a bunch of guy staring and laughing . . . You know, real comradery, right?" Hansen laughed.
"After working on the boat for all these years now, I got nothing to prove anymore. I totally scream. Let me tell you, it totally helps too."