Today is the beginning of the 60th annual Kodiak Crab Festival, which started in 1958.
Toby Sullivan, Executive Director of the Kodiak Maritime Museum recently told KMXT that the king crab fishery was a seminal event in Kodiak’s history.
“It was started in the late 50’s because the crab season, in those days, went from August until late May,” said Sullivan. “It was a nine-month season and at the end of the season everybody was back in town getting ready to go salmon fishing and it seemed like the right time to have a town festival.”
Sullivan says after World War II fisherman flocked to Kodiak and the Bering Sea. And once plants figured out how to process the crab and market it in cans it really took off.
“By the early sixties it was going pretty big. And people started building boats that were kind of designed for crab fishing instead of just using their salmon boat,” said Sullivan. “And the fishery, they caught more crab every year until 1966 – that was the peak year – and I believe 92 million pounds of King Crab crossed the docks in 1966, and then it was a slow decline from there until the last season was in ‘82.
Up until World War II, Sullivan explains, Kodiak was a small village and the population ballooned as the crab fishery took off.
“Suddenly there were hundreds of new faces in town,” said Sullivan. “There was lots of money because fishermen were making money, processing workers were making money, the people who were loaning the money to get the boats and the plants built. All those people were making money and it was a boom town, just like the wild west in some ways.”
Even though King Crab is no longer a part of the local economy, due to environmental changes, the tradition of the Crab Festival continues.
Some special events this year include: A visit from Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott who will host a meet and greet at the Kodiak Convention Center Friday 5-7 p.m. And a special screening of Keep Talking, a documentary film about the revitalization of the Alutiiq language at 6-10 p.m., Saturday in the Kodiak High School auditorium. The film trailer can be watched here.
The 60th annual Kodiak Crab Festival runs through Monday at 5 p.m.
A detailed schedule can be found www.kodiakchamber.org