Jeremy Abena removes crab legs from boiling water. Kayla Desroches/KMXT
When visitors drop by Crab Fest, they expect to buy, eat, and generally pig out on crab. Any type of crab will do, as long as there IS crab. Well, the crab industry may not be the bustling market of Kodiak yesteryear, but the crustacean still made an appearance at Memorial Day weekend 2015.
Jeremy Abena does marketing and sales for Pickled Willys. He says there are a variety of crab types with different flavors, but they’re selling Golden King Crab.
“It’s saltier,” says Abena. “But it’s bigger sections, so people get a little more return on their crack. I would say most people prefer the snow crab, the tanner crab, the bairdi. It’s all the same thing, but different names. Most of the locals prefer that because it’s a sweeter crab. It’s not as salty, but it’s not as big. So, you gotta take your taste versus your return on your crack.”
Co-owner Barbara Hughes says all they do is re-heat the crab for four minutes and serve it out steamy and warm. With one important side dish.
“Everybody wants butter, tons of butter. Not really any cocktail sauce, just tons of butter,” says Hughes.
Abena says a crab leg weighs about a half pound, and they charge 20 dollars per pound. He says they shipped their weekend supply in from Akutan, where the crab was caught a little more than a week ago.
NOAA crab biologist, Pete Cummiskey, says King Crab fishing used to be a thriving industry in Kodiak.
“At one time, it was called the King Crab capital of the world back in the 60s and into the 70s and then the crab populations around 1982 around Kodiak and all around Alaska kinda crashed and they have not recovered sufficiently in Kodiak to have a crab season since 1982,” says Cummiskey.
He says there are a lot of theories – over fishing, disease – but little evidence for any one reason king Crab numbers shrunk.
“The population went down throughout the entire range of King Crab throughout Alaska and over into Russian waters and down into British Columbia waters which kinda points more to a broad environmental kinda cause or factors that contributed as opposed to localized fishing,” says Cummiskey.
Trevor Brown is the Executive Director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, which organizes Crab Fest. He says a few years ago, the festival relied on St. Mary’s Catholic Parish and School booth for its crab needs.
One local fisherman donated annually before he retired.
“Once he sold out of his shares of crab he obviously wasn’t able to donate that anymore, so we did have one year where we didn’t have crab at Crab Festival, and I believe that was three years ago,” says Brown.
Brown says this year Crab Fest offers not only a booth for King Crab, but also one for Dungeness crab.
Terri and Randy Blondin run Krimson’s Crab, where you can see the crab scuttling around in a tank at the booth.
Randy Blondin is a commercial fisherman and says he does have a preference.
“Actually, I think I like Dungeness better myself,” says Blondin. “Although it’s obviously cheaper than King Crab. It’s half the price that King Crab is.”
The smaller Dungeness crab goes for fifteen dollars each at Krimson’s.
Unless you know someone – or you are someone – who fishes for crab, the festival is one of the few opportunities for residents to grab this particular brand of seafood. And now that commercial outlets are selling at the festival, Kodiak is not as likely to go without crab again.