Fishermen who were around Kachemak Bay before the 1980s probably remember a time when king crab was the dominant fishery in the area. A new exhibit at the Pratt Museum in Homer takes a closer look at the time “When Crab Was King.”
A 1967 documentary on the perils and glory of king crab fishing greets visitors to Homer’s Pratt Museum. The film plays on a loop against a large wall on the back of the main exhibit hall, showing how king crab was once truly king in the area.
Scott Bartlett is the exhibits curator for the Pratt. He says the new exhibit – titled “When Crab was King” – was originally put together by the Kodiak Maritime Museum in 2011.
"The core of this exhibit is ... contemporary portraits of individuals holding portraits of themselves during the heyday of the crab fishery," said Bartlett. "Each of them has a different and unique story about that time and ... you get to experience some of that."
The black-and-white portraits hanging in the museum’s main gallery are striking, conjuring up images of an industry – and a lifestyle – that has fallen by the wayside, at least around Kachemak Bay.
Crabbing in Kachemak Bay really went gangbusters in the 1940s and 50s, remaining a mainstay industry in the area until the 80s. Fred Elvsaas fished out of Seldovia for many years. In his interview, he talks about the various methods used to catch king crab and how some of them, including snagging with a longline, may have contributed to the fishery’s decline.
There are 24 portraits – and 24 stories – that have been gathered as part of the exhibit’s oral history aspect.
The exhibit also feature mounts of various types of Alaskan crabs and a huge – and authentic – crab pot hanging from the vaulted ceiling.
On Monday afternoon, Miss Putney’s fifth grade class from West Homer Elementary School spent an hour or so enjoying the exhibit and learning about crabs. The kids were quickly drawn to a large aquarium in the center of the exhibit hall that was filled with dozens of tiny little baby king crabs. A movable video camera on top of the aquarium was attached to a screen, allowing the students to zoom in for a closer look.
Bartlett says “When Crab Was King” will be showing at the Pratt Museum through the end of December. The museum has also planned a couple of events around the exhibit. On December 5th, a community conversation about crab fishing will take place. And then on December 19th, representatives from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will talk about the current state of the crab population in Kachemak Bay.