What Does the Captain of a Crab Boat Earn?


According to the Alaska Department of Labor, working as a crab fisherman on a commercial vessel is the most hazardous job in this country. In the last 50 years, according to the Alaskan Fish and Game Department, billions of pounds of King crabs have been caught in Alaskan waterways. Next to red salmon, red king crabs are the most expensive marine species to catch, and most of the crab fishing is done in Alaskan waters.


  • Crab boat captains on large commercial fishing vessels are responsible for all facets of running a seaworthy boat. Crab captains require specific skills and extensive experience prior to becoming responsible for overseeing the operation. They need to know the prime crab spots, crabbing regulations and marine safety protocols.

    Crab boats are limited to crab quotas for snow crabs and king crabs. In 2004, a pound of king crabs brought in $4.70.

Job Outlook and Salaries

  • According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for commercial crab captains is expected to decline, since regulations are becoming more stringent and crab quotas are becoming more limited. As technology on the crab boats continues to improve, more crabs are caught at a quicker pace, and this may lead to over-catching. Government regulations are implemented to allow natural replenishing of the crab populations to occur.

    Crab captains suffer from high attrition rates because of the strenuous activity and the toll crabbing may take over the years. Furthermore, crab captains are unable to rely upon steady annual incomes and must be away from loved ones for long stretches at a time.

    In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published earnings data for crab fishermen and captains. The average fisherman, including captains, earned $27,950 annually. The highest income earners made over $45,930 annually. Due to seasonal fluctuations, most of the income captains earn is made during the summer and fall seasons. During the spring and winter seasons, crab captains may supplement their crabbing incomes with other jobs.


  • Crab vessels do not have to provide their crew members with minimum wage, but they typically can't employ anyone younger than 18. Wages are usually based upon shares and percentages of the total pounds of crab caught during the season. A new deckhand or "greenhorn" earns between 1 percent to 10 percent of the total catch. Some crab boat captains pay a flat fee to these newcomers, instead of a percentage. Crab boat captains require their deckhands to purchase the special fishing gear at their own cost, such as rubber jackets, coats and boots. The captain provides the survival suits as mandated by the U.S. Coast Guard.


  • Crab boat captains are required to have extensive experience with crabbing, and most worked as deckhands as youths. They must be able to operate their commercial vessels, know how to value crab pots and understand the inner workings of operating the vessels. The crab boat captain typically pays for the maintenance for the crab boat, the cost of equipment and the salary of his deckhands.

    Due to the rigorous physical activities and grueling weather conditions, the crew of a captain's crab boat can suffer from low morale, physical injuries, and tense relationships with deck mates. Crab boat captains often serve as referees, treat physical injuries, and maintain morale on the crab boat. Captains also oversee the hiring of all deck personnel.

    Crab boat captains must be familiar with operating the electronics on fishing fleets, know the protocol for radio communications and federal regulations. Captains usually have diplomas from high school or GEDs and some are even former Coast Guards.

Expert Insight

  • Since the airing of the popular Discovery Channel television series, "Deadliest Catch," there has been an increasing amount of interest in crab fishing in Alaskan waters. The extreme dangers of crab fishing have been brought to national attention due to the success of this television show. Viewers are more familiar with the dangers these fishermen endure to allow us to enjoy these seafood treats.

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  • Photo Credit crab with fish on the shells with reflection image by Nikolay Okhitin from Fotolia.com
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