Fish Processor Ships Live Crab Out Of Dutch Harbor

Credit: Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Credit: Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

It pays not to kill crab. Or at least that’s what Unalaska’s smallest fish processor is banking on for a new business venture.

Bering Fisheries started shipping live crab across the globe earlier this month. As KUCB’s Stephanie Joyce reports, initial results have been mixed, but the processor isn’t giving up just yet.

On the dock in front of the Bering Fisheries processing plant, there are four large, open-top tanks full of live golden king crab.

Caldero: “These have been only been in here for about 12 hours, but I think we can hold them in here for about two days before they get to the point where they start needing to be shipped out.”

That’s plant manager Rocky Caldero. The crab are destined for Korea, where they’ll fetch four or five times as much as their frozen counterparts — if they make it there alive.

Caldero: “I think if we can ship it from here, and get it to Korea, and only have 10 percent deadloss, then it’s successful.”

Keeping the crab alive while they travel first to Anchorage, and then across the Pacific isn’t easy. Caldero says the flight logistics can get complicated when Aleutian weather is factored in.

Caldero: “As soon as we know the plane is on its way, and we hope it lands, then we’ll start packing.”

Packing involves putting 40 pounds of pinching, scampering crab into boxes lined with both a plastic bag and an insulating layer, then pumping a bunch of oxygen into the bag and zip-tying it shut.

Caldero: “We messed around with it with opilio crab, and we got crab to last five days.”

The king crab from the holding tanks didn’t fare as well on their journey. By the time they arrived in Korea, 30 percent had died. Caldero says it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong — whether it’s the packing technique, or some error along the way, but he’s working on getting better results in the future. The market for live crab is exploding in Asia, particularly in China, and Caldero wants to make sure Bering Fisheries gets a piece of the market.

Caldero: “We’re going to do it with all the crab [species].”

That’s going to require some experimentation — every crab species reacts differently to intercontinental travel, and some, like the kings, will need more pampering than others.

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