Catching Crabs – George Inlet, Ketchikan, Alaska

When you mention crabs and Alaska you immediately think of the giant Alaskan King Crab. However you can also find Dungeness Crab here and in the George Inlet close to Ketchikan, Alaska there is an active crab fishing operation in this sheltered inlet which is ideal for this species of crab.

Taking a boat from the George Inlet Lodge you travel up the sheltered inlet taking in the beautiful scenery and here you can usually also have the opportunity to see some wildlife along the way including the American Bald Eagle which are relatively easy spot at the top of the trees where they nest.

As you sail up the George Inlet you can also see a number of large canneries. A salmon cannery is a factory that commercially cans salmon. It is a fish processing industry that became established on the Pacific coast of North America during the nineteenth century, and subsequently expanded to other parts of the world that had easy access to salmon.

The “father of canning” is the Frenchman Nicolas Appert. In 1795, he began experimenting with ways to preserve foodstuffs, placing food in sealed glass jars and then placing the jars in boiling water. During the first years of the Napoleonic Wars, the French government offered a 12,000-franc prize to anyone who could devise a cheap and effective method of preserving large amounts of food. The larger armies of the period required increased and regular supplies of quality food. Appert submitted his invention and won the prize in January 1810. The reason for lack of spoilage was unknown at the time, since it would be another 50 years before Louis Pasteur demonstrated the role of microbes in food spoilage. However, glass containers presented challenges for transportation. Shortly after, the British inventor and merchant Peter Durand patented his own method, this time in a tin can, creating the modern-day process of canning foods.

Canning was used in the 1830s in Scotland to keep fish fresh until it could be marketed. By the 1840s, salmon was being canned in Maine and New Brunswick. The commercial salmon canneries had their main origins in California, and in the northwest of the US, particularly on the Columbia River. They were never important on the US Atlantic Coast, but by the 1940s, the principal canneries had shifted to Alaska.

The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus, from Greek hali- = sea, aiētos = eagle, leuco- = white, cephalos = head) is a bird of prey found in North America. A sea eagle, it has two known sub-species and forms a species pair with the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). Its range includes most of Canada and Alaska, all of the contiguous United States, and northern Mexico. It is found near large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply and old-growth trees for nesting.

The bald eagle is an opportunistic feeder which subsists mainly on fish, which it swoops down and snatches from the water with its talons. It builds the largest nest of any North American bird and the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal species, up to 4 m (13 ft) deep, 2.5 m (8.2 ft) wide, and 1 metric ton (1.1 short tons) in weight. Sexual maturity is attained at the age of four to five years.

Bald eagles are not actually bald; the name derives from an older meaning of “white headed”. The adult is mainly brown with a white head and tail. The sexes are identical in plumage, but females are about 25 percent larger than males. The beak is large and hooked. The plumage of the immature is brown.

The bald eagle is both the national bird and national animal of the United States of America. The bald eagle appears on its Seal. In the late 20th century it was on the brink of extirpation in the continental United States. Populations recovered and the species was removed from the U.S. federal government’s list of endangered species on July 12, 1995 and transferred to the list of threatened species. It was removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the Lower 48 States on June 28, 2007.

The Dungeness crab, Metacarcinus magister (formerly Cancer magister), is a species of crab that inhabits eelgrass beds and water bottoms on the west coast of North America. It typically grows to 20 cm (7.9 in) across the carapace and is a popular seafood prized for its sweet and tender flesh. Its common name comes from the port of Dungeness, Washington.

Dungeness crabs are often caught by commercial fishers in circular pots typically baited with herring, squid, or clams. Pots are usually about 40 inches in diameter and 14 inches high. They are constructed of 3/4-inch round, steel frames wrapped in rubber tubing then covered with stainless steel wire mesh woven in 2-inch squares. Two 4-3/8″ diameter escape rings are required to be built in each pot to keep the pot from filling with undersize crabs.

The number of pots that can be set by a vessel and the fishing season varies by management area in Alaska. Throughout Alaska, only hardshell male Dungeness crabs over 6 1/2 inches in shell width may be harvested. The sex of a Dungeness crab can be determined by examining the abdomen: the abdominal flap of a female crab is about 1 1/2 times as long as it is wide and has a much broader base than a male crab which has an abdominal flap generally twice as long as it is wide.

This area of Alaska is also the unique habitat of the banana slug. Banana slug is a common name for three North American species of terrestrial slug in the genus Ariolimax. These slugs are often yellow in color and are sometimes spotted with brown, like a ripe (or overripe) banana.

Banana slugs are often bright yellow (giving rise to the banana sobriquet) although they may also be greenish, brown, tan, or white. The species Ariolimax columbianus sometimes has black spots that are so extensive that the animal looks almost entirely black. Individual slugs will change colors with alterations in food consumption, light exposure, and moisture levels. Color may also indicate whether a slug is healthy, injured, or what age they are.

After a boat trip up the George Inlet to see the crab catching operation what better way to finish the day than to sit down back at the George Inlet Lodge and have a feast of freshly boiled crab washed down with the excellent Alaskan amber beer.

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