Sunday, November 27, 2005

Discovery Channel DEADLIEST CATCH

The next time you feast on these Alaskan craps, remember to think about the people who risks their lives to make it possible.

Every October, 250 boats gathering in Alaska’s Dutch Harbour, waiting for a radio announcement that can seal their fate. These are crab fishermen, and they’re chasing one of the ocean’s great prizes – the king crab, one of North America’s most popular delicacies. The rewards for a successful season can be immense. In 2004, the Alaskan boats caught 15.4 million pounds (6.8 million kilograms) of crab worth US$65.8 million. On a really successful boat, one fisherman might earn as much as US$100,000 for only five days work.

But the risks are enormous too. Fishermen everywhere have the most dangerous jobs on the planet. In Europe, fishermen are fifty times more likely to die while working than any other profession – a statistic which is mirrored in every country where boats take to the high seas in search of food for their populations. Extreme weather at sea puts these men in almost constant peril from drowning, hypothermia and severe injuries from nets, ropes and heavy equipment. And as fish and shellfish populations decline, they are forced to travel further from home in the hope of filling their freezers, often exposing themselves to the planet’s harshest weather for weeks at a time.

Alaska’s crab fishermen are among the most endangered of their kind. Their fishing season is short – perhaps as short as four days, and rarely more than twelve days. But in those few frantic days, they may have to endure forty-foot (12 metre) waves, 80mph (128kph) winds and the constant risk of being slammed by a swinging 700lb (318kg) steel crab trap. 20-hour shifts are common, usually in sub-zero temperatures and on slippery decks that are constantly pitching at perilous angles. Nearly every Alaskan crab fisherman returns to shore with some kind of injury: crushed hands and fingers, broken ribs and limbs. And in the worst accidents, people die: over 80% of them from drowning as a result of being washed overboard by the impossibly fierce seas.

These stories are by no means unique to Alaska. Everywhere in the world’s cold oceans, fishermen withstand these unimaginably difficult working conditions, or worse. And for the skippers of these boats, these risks live alongside a constant economic threat to their livelihoods. Boats capable of withstanding conditions in the wild, freezing open oceans cost millions of dollars to build and many thousands of dollars a year to maintain. Before any fishing boat makes a profit, it has to pay for repairs, spare parts, fuel, food, bait and ice to freeze the catch. Nets and traps, the basic tools of the fishing trade, can cost thousands of dollars alone, and are often lost at sea. - Discovery Channel Asia

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