Hal Bernton/Seattle Times
ST. PAUL — The Trident Seafoods plant tucked inside this island’s small port is the largest snow crab processor in the nation. On a cold clear day in January, three Trident workers, within the hold of the Seattle-based Pinnacle, grabbed bunches of the shellfish, and placed them in an enormous brailer basket for their brief trip across a dock. The crab were fed into a hopper to be butchered, cooked, brined and frozen. Few of the 360 people who live on St. Paul, largest of the four Pribilof Islands, have opted to work in the plant. Instead jobs are filled with recruits from elsewhere. But the plant still remains a financial underpinning of this Aleut community. Trident pays taxes that help bankroll the expansive services of a city government, which rents apartments, leases construction equipment and even provides plumbers and electricians to make repairs.
ABOARD THE PINNACLE, Bering Sea — Through the wheelhouse window, captain Mark Casto spotted a white line on the horizon. The edge of an ice floe was illuminated by bow lights piercing the morning darkness of the Bering Sea. He throttled back the engines. Soon, the Seattle-based crab boat began to nose through closely packed pancake-like pieces and bigger craggy chunks, some the size of boulders, which bobbed about in the currents and clanged against the hull. Casto had hoped this patch of sea would yield a bountiful catch of snow crab to help fill up the boat. Nearby, a few hours earlier, he had set more than two dozen baited pots along the sea bottom. Now, he risked losing them in the fast-moving ice.