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FOCUS: The Deadliest Catch
by Heather Eagle, Marketing Manager, SkyTerra

The situation — there are many lines of work that are considered dangerous or at the very least risky to some extent… police, firemen, miners, oil riggers and ‘crabbers’ to name but a few. However, according to the Discovery Channel’s sources, Alaskan ‘crabbers’ are top of the list in the business of... risky business.

Crabber” is the name applied to those who challenge the high seas north of 60°, risking their lives for a two-to-five week period once a year in pursuit of the Alaskan king crab. Alaskan crab fishing is considered to be one of the most dangerous jobs in North America.

Every year, hundreds of seemingly fearless crabbers endure 20+ hour shifts for days at a time, in extreme weather conditions: 40-foot waves, 80-mph winds and sub- zero temperatures, all with the hope of netting their share of one of the most desirable seafood delicacies in the world – the Alaskan king crab. Approximately 10 to 15 million pounds of crab are estimated to be caught every year by the crab fishing fleet of just over 300 boats.

The challenge is to obtain a reliable satellite communications system for operation north of 60° that operates successfully in extreme environments.

The Solution
For a week prior to the start of the fishing season, crabbers flock to the small town of Dutch Harbor, Alaska on the island of Unalaska. There, the crabbers they retrieve their pots, food supplies, fuel, and bait as they ready themselves for the upcoming, rigiorous weeks at sea. There are a number of satellite carriers offering service north of 60°; however, SkyTerra’s dispatch radio is the service of choice for the Pacific fishing community.

Using dispatch radio service for its flat rated, one-to-one, and one-to-many, service allows for an easy to use, push-to-talk, voice service in the most remote corners of North America. In fact, the ship captains refer to the SkyTerra dispatch radio phones as ‘TAG’ phones – a label they use in reference to their talkgroups. A captain of one ship might say to another captain “I’ll call you on TAG 1”.

For the crabbers, this service is often the only means of communication. In these remote ocean regions, where being ‘on the edge of the world’ is truly a reality, the ability to simply push a button and hear a voice can often mean the difference between life and death. For most crabbers, this is a capability they simply cannot live without having available.

With seasonal fishing quotas to fill on crab, cod, halibut, pollock, hake, and squid, the Pacific fishing fleet now numbers more than 1400 MSAT units. From the Pacific Mexican Coast to the far reaches of the Aleutian Islands, the MSAT ‘TAG’ phones have become as popular as the common cell phone.

Whether using dispatch radio, circuit switched data to download maps and weather reports, catching up on emails, or simply making a voice call to a loved one back home, the SkyTerra Network has become part of doing business for those who dare to challenge the seas of the northern Pacific Ocean.

About the author
Heather Eagle holds an English/Psychology degree from York University and Magazine Journalism from Ryerson University. Heather joined SkyTerra in October 2004 with a solid background in marketing communications and has served as Editor of several corporate magazines and newsletters. She also teaches Communication Dynamics in the School of Part-time Studies at Algonquin College.