Unalaska, Alaska. Yes, it's really in Alaska (named after the Unagan, or Aleut, people who called it “Ounalashka,” meaning “near the peninsula”). And yes, if you've seen “Deadliest Catch” on TV, you've probably seen a bit of the town. Head into any grocery store in the state and you'll probably find a Time Bandit T-shirt for sale celebrating one of the popular vessels. While Unalaska might be out there (800 air miles from Anchorage, Alaska's largest city), its influence is wide.
For a bit of color, check out the town’s police blotter, which -- with its cheeky descriptions and honest depiction of wacky life in Unalaska -- is a stitch.
But for all the reality TV, crazy characters and goofy interactions, there's serious business in the Aleutian Islands community of about 4,000: fishing.
According to the annual Fisheries of the U.S. report compiled the by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Dutch Harbor-Unalaska is the busiest fishing port in the nation, delivering 706 million pounds of fish and crab in 2011, worth a cool $207 million. In terms of sales, it was second only to New Bedford, Mass., thanks to that Eastern port's lucrative scallop business.
Dutch Harbor, a former U.S. Navy base located within Unalaska's city limits, is a prime crab fishery and considered a North Pacific fishing hub.
When not processing millions of pounds of fish, it's also a “port of refuge.” Its strategic location and ice-free port allows year-round protection for disabled or distressed vessels.
But beyond the boats and the fish, there's rich history. Thousands of people have inhabited the area for hundreds of years, according to the Alaska Community Database. In 1825, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Ascension of Christ was constructed. Because the founding priest, Ivan Veniaminov, translated scripture into Aleut and allowed locals to maintain their culture and language, the church became strong in the community.
Today, the church is the oldest Russian Orthodox cruciform-style church in North America, despite being nearly destroyed by an attack during World War II.
Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com