You never think you’re going to be interested in something like crab fishing until you watch Deadliest Catch. Those guys know exactly how to make crab fishing intensely dramatic, keeping watchers hooked to the end. And while there are a lot of aspects of the show that just command attention, few are as exciting as watching the crew reel in those massive pots.
Every trap comes up with several hundreds of pounds of crab. And since the object of the game is to catch as much crab as possible, it’s important that the crew makes sure to count the catch as accurately as they can. The question now though is how do they count crab on Deadliest Catch?
How Do They Count Crab?
There’s a specific process to crab counting which mainly falls into the laps of the deckhands on board. Since it is a tedious process and the crew is interested in accuracy, it’s important that the people placed at the counting tables have some experience and knowledge when it comes to counting and measuring crab weights and sizes.
Here’s how it happens:
Pots are Hauled Back and Crabs are Sorted
The first part of the process of course, involves hauling back the pots. These giant metal cages are stationary traps that sit at the bottom of the waves and catch crustaceans, in this case, crab. The pots are pulled back on board and the contained crabs are sorted out.
So which crabs are they allowed to keep? According to law, crabs that measure under 5 inches from spike to spike across the back can’t be caught. That said, these smaller crabs must be returned to the water.
Similarly, they also have to sort out female crabs. These crabs must be returned to the water along with the smaller, immature crabs. The reason for this is because the high demand for crabs have driven up consumption, causing populations to decrease.
To help curb the decrease in numbers and encourage crabs to repopulate, the female crabs are thrown back into the water to give them a chance at breeding and laying more eggs.
Keepers are Placed on a Counting Table
Once the crabs have been sorted out, the keepers are then tossed on a counting table so they can be properly accounted for. The guys working these tables are some of the most experienced deckhands on the vessel. Sometimes, crab boats will have people who have no other task but to count and measure crab.
In some cases, you might see some of the handlers and counters holding long rulers while they go through the haul. That’s because some crab might be apparently smaller than the legal mandate, which means they can be picked out at a glance and tossed back into the water. But for other crabs that measure just slightly less, it may be necessary to use a more accurate tool to guarantee their size.
Any crabs that make the cut in terms of both size and sex are tossed into the keep pile. This means they go into the holding tank under the deck where they’ll stay until the vessel manages to make its way back to the dock.
But exactly how do the deckhands keep track of the numbers? Easy. Every deckhand assigned to the sorting and counting table will have to make their own personal tally of each crab they toss into the holding tank. This means that they won’t have to count the entire bulk on their own, and will instead just have to count the number of crabs they manage to personally handle.
Numbers are Reported Back to the Lead
The lead deckhand stays and watches the operations to make sure that all of the crew members on deck do their job. Each deckhand assigned to the counting table then reports their final tally to the lead who collates all of the numbers, adds them up, and then reports the final count to the captain.
To measure the weight of the crab, they use an average weight for crabs of that size. This lets them come up with a weight estimate without having to manually weigh each individual crab. This also allows a faster processing time, considering the amount of crab they usually count and measure per haul.
While the Deadliest Catch show might make it seem like they spend no more than a few minutes on the job, each pot of crab can take up to 10 hours to sort, process, and weigh.
Do They Ever Get the Numbers Wrong?
The process of counting crabs isn’t an exact science. A lot of it is guesswork, and that’s why they only allow more experienced deckhands to handle the counting and processing. In one episode, crew members from Maverick revealed that they were over 10,000 pounds short of their original calculation.
But in most cases, less is always better than excess. Crab boats are only allowed a certain quota per haul. Exceeding that quota could subject them to steep fines that will ultimately offset their profits.
In case of excess, boats have the option to toss the surplus crab overboard or to donate it to boats lined up after them that might not have reached their quota. Most of the time however, boats rarely come up with an excess.
If ever a crab boat carries more catch than they hand counted, the excess rarely goes over 1,000 pounds which is a pretty small margin of error when you consider just how much crab they typically handle.
A Day In the Life of a Crab Fisherman
Crab fishermen have some of the most dangerous jobs on the planet. Traversing dangerous waters just to catch the most coveted crustacean in all of the seafood industry, crab fishermen process and handle thousands of pounds of crab with each haul.
If you ever found yourself wondering how do they count crab on Deadliest Catch, their fool-proof process combined with years of experience have made them especially skilled at coming up with numbers that aren’t too far from the actual count.