By Carey Restino
Back in the day, residents of Kachemak Bay pulled more than big flatfish and frisky salmon from the waters. Those who have lived on local shores for 30 years or so remember a day when it was possible to jig for crab, not to mention make a descent living from harvesting king and Tanner crabs.
Those memories — as well as a tank full of tiny juvenile crab courtesy of the Seward hatchery — are the subject of an exhibit currently on display at the Pratt Museum entitled “When Crab Was King.” A community conversation to be held Thursday night from 5-7 p.m. aims to haul in more stories yet.
Scott Bartlett, curator of exhibits for the museum, said the exhibit started with a collection of stories from the Kodiak Maritime Museum. The Pratt Museum added to that with local stories and artifacts, some from the museum’s collection and others from individuals Bartlett interviewed about the fishery.
One of those who shared local stories about crab fishing was Fred Elvsaas of Seldovia, who could remember jigging for crab by dragging hooks on the bottom of the Bay.
“The crabs would hang right onto it,” Bartlett said. “It was interesting to hear that there was subsistence fishing for crab – it didn’t just start with commercial fishing.”
Bartlett said that the King Crab fishery in Kachemak Bay started in 1960 and ran to 1982 and has remained closed since then. The Tanner Crab commercial fishery in Kachemak Bay ran from 1968 to 1988, then closed for two years and opened again from 1991 to 1994, though there have been a handful of sport and personal use Tanner Crab fishery openings since, the most recent of which was two years ago.
The purpose of the upcoming community conversation, which will be recorded, is to collect more of the stories about what was a lucrative and successful chapter in the Kachemak Bay’s fisheries history.
“Fisherman were caught up in that — there was a huge economic impact from the rising and falling of crab stocks,” Bartlett said. “It shows how things are so closely intertwined.”
Bartlett said the exhibit opened in November, and has been well received by all ages.
“We had a good turnout at the opening with a number of fishermen there,” he said. “I think it’s been really good to start the conversation and get people talking about it.”
In addition to the Community Conversation, a “Crabby Colloquium” will be held on Dec. 19 from 5-7 p.m. at the museum featuring science-focused discussion with local biologists and fisheries managers discussing current research on crab in the bay.
“It ties together a lot of pieces that are important to our community, including the environmental impact upon crab,” Bartlett said.
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