Dutch Harbor, Alaska, the largest fishing port in the United States, is buzzing as 81 fishing vessels, including the Northwestern, the Cornelia Marie and the Time Bandit, return to start the 2006 red king crab season. Rick Quashnik cedes control of the Maverick to a new captain, and as the fishermen drop their first pots, an emergency radio distress beacon goes off.
After a fishing boat sinks, the fleet works with the Coast Guard to find survivors. While equipment failures plague the Northwestern and the Cornelia Marie, the Time Bandit and the Maverick start fishing only to have one boat come up empty while the other fills pots.
After a deadly start, the Bering Sea is still claiming victims. Working in high seas, a deckhand on the Wizard suffers a crippling injury, leaving the captain scrambling to shore. On the Northwestern, a deckhand fears possible jail time, and the Farwest Leader finds pots of gold at the hands of the captain's wife.
Halfway through crab season, the grind is on as crews work 40 hours without sleep. Equipment failures, fatigue and bad weather make fishing even more dangerous. Both the Maverick and the Farwest Leader must stop for repairs, and the Time Bandit rescues a fisherman who has fallen off a passing crab boat.
As the end of the king crab season draws near, the captains consider their positions in a friendly captains' wager made before the season. The Time Bandit crew starts dropping gear and hauling in record numbers. The Northwestern brings in huge pots of keepers, but on the Wizard, the crew is struggling to make their final offload.
The red king crab fishing marathon comes to a close. Sig Hansen and the Northwestern crew finish a 30-hour grind and steam for port while Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie returns to Dutch Harbor injury-free. With money in their pockets, the fishermen return home for a short rest before returning for the opilio crab season.
As the opilio crab season opens, several greenhorns experience the subfreezing temperatures and icy winter waters of the Bering Sea for the first time. The Northwestern's pots are battered by rough weather and sea lions, and the Time Bandit bets the farm on a secret location where there may be no crab at all.
Only days into opilio crab season, a major storm system has arrived on the fishing grounds. High seas cause Andy Hillstrand to call his men off deck on the Time Bandit moments before a rogue wave hits the starboard side. Off to a slow start, the Northwestern is plagued by bad luck as an engine problem forces the boat to head for port.
Busted buoys, broken pots and a blown engine put the Northwestern more than a week behind schedule, so Sig takes a chance and drops all of his gear far north of the rest of the fleet. A monster storm blows through the Time Bandit and Cornelia Marie's grounds. Both boats fish through the onslaught, and it pays off for the Cornelia Marie with decent numbers.
Greenhorns are put to the test as the Bering Sea's harsh winter weather deteriorates. A greenhorn on the Wizard has only worked three days and is already faltering, but the Northwestern and Cornelia Marie greenhorns step up to prove their worth.
The promise of a great catch outweighs the dangerous risks of opilio crab fishing season. The Farwest Leader tries to survive the loss of one engine, the Time Bandit is caught in a crippling ice pack when the weather changes drastically, and the Northwestern tries to stay ahead of the ice pack.
It's the end of opilio crab season, and while some of the greenhorns have succeeded in their quests to become Bering Sea crab fishermen, others won't be coming back. The crab tally is in, and a winner is declared.