June 7, 2023

Ocean Oral History Archives, from Kodiak’s King Crab Fishery and more

Posted by Laura Guertin

I have authored blog posts discussing the StoryCorps oral history project that captures conversations between individuals on any topic. Although the voices of Earth and space scientists are not easy to find when searching the archives (see post), there are communities developing and growing in contributions, from AGU Narratives to Tales from the Deep: Stories from Scientific Ocean Drilling (see post).

Another archive that includes ocean, climate, and environmental voices is available thanks to multiple NOAA offices. The Voices Oral History Archives (VOHA) are interviews with scientists, stakeholders, and more, classified under a specific collection or project. The entire VOHA is searchable across all contributions. If you are interested in learning more from American Samoa Elder Fishermen or Native Alaska women engaged in Bristol Bay fisheries, or even about the Cape Cod Shellfish Industry, there is no doubt you will find something of interest scanning through the Collections Page or through a keyword search.

screenshot of main page of NOAA's Voices Oral History Archives

When Crab Was King

sign on side of building for museum exhibit

There are certainly additional oral histories that have been record and placed online beyond StoryCorps and NOAA’s site. One unique example of where the audio collection turned into a portrait exhibit throughout a community is in Kodiak, Alaska. The project started with the Kodiak Maritime Museum hiring someone to create a series of 3-minute audio episodes edited from interviews with people that lived through the king crab era. The local NPR-affiliate station played these audio clips that described the people and culture during the 30-year heyday of the King Crab Fishery in Kodiak.

three portraits on the side of a buildingThe Kodiak Maritime Museum then decided to take portraits of the people interviewed – first placing the images inside their museum, and then putting the images on 6 foot-by-4 foot boards and mounting them to the sides of buildings around Kodiak(!) The exhibit was installed in 2021 and only supposed to last one year – but I first saw these images in 2022, and they are still on the buildings in summer 2023 (fortunate for me!). By scanning a QR code found below the images, one is brought to the museum website that has the matching audio recordings available to listen to.

I wish I could put into words the power of seeing these images on the sides of buildings while walking/driving around town – on the side of restaurants, churches, gas stations, hardware stores, and more. The black-and-white images from the people in the present, most of whom are holding on to a color image from the past connecting to their king crab story, is incredible. The color images draw you in and triggers your curiosity to visit the website and listen to each and every audio file that is available! Forty-one portraits are pictured on the website for When Crab Was King: The Rise and Fall of the Kodiak King Crab Fishery, 1950-1982.

hardware store with three portraits on the side

coast and boat on water, also building with two portraits

Thank you, Kodiak Maritime Museum, for showing current visitors a snapshot of the people and stories of your history, culture, and impact of harvesting crab – and for sharing a clever form of communication and engagement!

For those interested in learning more about the king crab industry in the Gulf of Alaska, the Alaska Sea Grant Research program has a summary of their work along with results. NOAA also has a page describing Alaska Crab Research and a site for all of their Alaska work.

(*Photos around Kodiak, Alaska taken by myself, June 2023)