Original air date: June 14, 2005
This opilio season had been a deadly one, with the deaths of the Big Valley crew and a crewman from the Sultan who fell overboard just hours later. Boats were reaching their holding tank capacities and crews were reaching their mental and physical limits, but the fleet kept going in an effort to catch the year’s wages in the remaining 24 hours. The Northwestern builds a “deck load”, a holding pen to store the crab from their last pots on deck with water passing over them in hopes that they will survive long enough to reach the processors. As the last few hours ticked down, the second leg of the race began, the race to the processing plants. Off-loading is done on a first-come, first-served basis, making decisions of when to return to port critical to the success of a season. Sig Hansen of the Northwestern, knowing his deck load will not last long in the weather, gathers the last of his pots and sets course for the processors. Though the trip to the processor should be the safest part of the trip, Hansen relates the story of the St. Patrick, whose crew abandoned ship in December 1981 just a few miles from the Kodiak as their boat took on water; only two crew members survived, a loss made even more tragic by the knowledge that the St. Patrick had managed to right itself after the crew abandoned ship and did not sink until several days after it had been successfully towed into port. As luck would have it, the Northwestern becomes one of the first boats to arrive at the processors, and their deck load weathered the journey well; however, the crew takes great pleasure in riding a fellow crewman’s poor observation skills when his tally of the crab poundage fails to match up with the official total by over 20,000 pounds. Since crab will not last forever on a boat’s hold, a crab boat’s place in line to get to the processor is crucial; access to the processor is limited, and the wait could be hours or even days. Days would cost thousands in dead crab; when crab die in a boat’s hold, their deceased bodies release poisons into the hold that affect all the crab, often resulting in a chain reaction of deaths creating massive amounts of “deadloss”, or dead crabs that cannot be processed. The Maverick lost a portion of their load to deadloss when their wait in line for the processor turned into an extra week at sea, but the rest of their load held up well and the boat turned a nice profit, becoming one of the few vessels to have filled their holding tanks twice within the short Opilio season. The Northwestern won the 2005 Derby with the highest overall catch total in both halves of the Alaskan crab season (King and Opilio). Captains who would not return for the new IFQ-style fishing bid their crews goodbye as they return to port; other captains who would be going on under IFQ acknowledged that crab fishing, as they knew it, will change forever with the end of the Derby era.