Displaying items by tag: Deadliest Catch
Discovery's iconic reality series Deadliest Catch begins its 17th season this week and it's fair to say that Sig Hansen has become the face of the show over its long run. As the captain of The Northwestern, he was the first captain highlighted in the 2005 series premiere. And while other captains and boats have moved on and off the series over the years, Hansen has been the show's emotional center. Viewers have watched him battle health problems, wrangle with his brother Edgar over the future direction of the Northwestern and in recent seasons, serve as a very tough mentor to his daughter Mandy. She has become a captain herself and like all Hansen's, this fifth-generation captain has a strong will and moderately scary drive to succeed.
The new season of the show finds the captains battling the effects of the pandemic and while quarantines and frequent medical checks are an expected part of the picture, what viewers might not expect is that the fleet was facing the prospect of a total shutdown in future years. The pandemic had prevented Alaska's Department of Fish & Game from conducting its annual survey of the crab population. So the season began without the expected information on where the crab population might be located. The department also had no idea of the size of the crab population when they determined the season's overall quota. And as Sig explained it to me in a recent phone call, that was a live-or-death problem for the entire fleet. "We had to catch the entire fleet quota." he explained. "If we didn't, by law the fishery has to shut down for one or two years to allow the crab population to recover. And that would meant the end of this fleet. A lot of these boats wouldn't be here in a year or two. So for me, the most important thing about this season was making sure the fleet caught the entire quota."
Sig's idea was to get all of the captains featured on the show together and convince them to work together for the good of the fleet. That meant sharing information on where the crab was located and that's an idea that was met with a lot of skepticism from Hansen's fellow captains. "We don't usually work together. Anf to be honest, the times I've tried to work together in that past haven't been all that successful," Hansen told me. "But we didn't have a choice. I even convinced a veteran captain to come out of retirement one last time to help us out because we needed it." I won't give away the identity of the returning captain, but I will say that his return has an impact on the other boats - and not always in a positive way.
As for cooperation, even Sig wasn't entirely honest with his fellow captains, although he says he did try. "I might not have given them every small detail of information I had," he laughingly admitted. "But I needed to make sure I caught my quota too. And besides, these captains are good. They didn't need me to hold their hand and guide them to the exact spot."
One captain who didn't quite agree with Sig's approach to sharing was daughter Mandy, who went against his wishes and gave another captain the exact location and depth where the Northwestern was finding crab. When Sig discovers she made that decision, he's mad but he is also uncharacteristically circumspect about her actions. When I asked him if there was more to their disagreement than is in the episode, he told me that it all blew over pretty quickly. "I was mad at the time," Sig explained. "But she is a good captain and in the end I have to respect her decision. It's not the one I would have made, but each captain has their own way of doing things. She didn't volunteer everything she was doing. And honestly, I kept a few things back from her as well."
I asked Sig about the what kind of impact the show had on his family and whether he thought seeing him on television had made it more likely that his daughter would become a captain. "It's hard to say. She grew up in a fishing family and she's been around it all of her life." He did admit that the show gave his family a more intimate look at what the day-to-day life was like during the crab season. "They were surprised by the extreme weather," he said. "You can talk about it, but when someone sees those big waves...it's tough." Hansen said that when Mandy was younger, after she saw the show she started looking up weather information and giving it to his wife to send to him. "Obviously, I already had plenty of weather information," he said. "But it was kinda sweet and I think it did build up her natural feelings about what she wanted to do with her life."
Sig is one of those captains who even in normal times isn't the most cooperative with his fellow captains and more than once has lied to them on the radio while he was on camera. I asked him if he ever worried about other captains getting mad once they saw the show and discovered the truth. "No, not really. In this industry, you learn to be skeptical of everyone, because they are protecting themselves and their livelihood. Well, sometimes people get mad, but so many months have passed that it's hard to hold a grudge that long."
As for the future of Alaska's fisheries, I asked Sig about the impact climate change is having on the season. I mentioned I had spoke with fellow Deadliest Catch captain Keith Colburn, who worried that rising temperatures in the Bering Sea could have an impact on the crag population. Sig admitted that it's a concern of his as well, and it's something he had noticed in recent seasons. "You see the crab in different places," he said. "They're going deeper in order to find colder water and while I think we'll be okay for now, I do worry about my daughter's future and the future of the fleet. But this business has never been easy and that is just another thing to worry about. We'll figure it out, we always do."
Speaking of the future, I asked him whether the show had in a way given him a more tangible legacy with his family. Reruns of Deadliest Catch are going to be around decades and it's possible that future Hansen generations will mostly know him from what they see on the show. "I've never really thought about it," Hansen admitted. "But yeah, that would be nice. To think that somewhere down the road someone would say 'Oh look, that's grandpa or great-grandpa Hansen.' Yeah, I'd be happy with that."
Season 17 of Deadliest Catch premiered Friday, March 19th on discovery+, ahead of the season premiere airing Tuesday, April 20th on Discovery.
I recently did a radio interview in which one of the hosts asked me which show I considered to be the most influential reality series in television history. While a lot of people might answer that question with the long running CBS competition series Survivor, my answer was Discovery's Alaska crab fishing series Deadliest Catch. While it's true that the early years of Survivor had a large cultural influence, Deadliest Catch helped create an entire genre of successful reality shows. Its format and approach to story-telling has remained enormously influential over the ensuing years and I'd argue that Deadliest Catch continues to be a much more enjoyable show to watch than the recent seasons of Survivor.
Deadliest Catch begins its 17th season this week, and as you might might suspect, the season is focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the impact the virus has had on every aspect of society, you would expect to see the familiar crab fishermen of the show battling with possible outbreaks and involuntary changes in the way they do their day-to-day work. All of that is there in the season premiere, but the episode (and apparently the season) is primarily dominated by a challenge that I didn't see coming.
As it turns out, the pandemic prevented the Alaskan Fish and Game scientists from doing their annual survey of the crab population ahead of the season. That had a couple of important impacts on the fishery. First, the survey typically helps narrow down where the king crab populations might be located, giving fishermen a bit of a hint of where to start their fishing. But even more importantly, they decided on a quota based on the scant information they had. And unfortunately for the fleet, the laws that determine how the fisheries are managed don't have any caveats for the impact of a pandemic. The laws state that if the fleet doesn't catch all of the quota it's assigned that season, the assumption would be the reason is because the crab population is unexpectedly depleted. And the entire fishery will be off-limits for a year or two to allow the crab population to renew itself.
That involuntary future shutdown is an over-riding worry for the fleet and veteran fishermen (and longtime Deadliest Catch star) Sig Hansen rallies together the other captains on the show and convinces them to work together. He's convinced the only way there will be a crab season next year is if the captains share information about where the crab are located and how well each boat is doing with their pots.
If you're familiar with the personalities on the show, you won't be surprised to earn that each captain's attitude about sharing is defined a bit differently. And those differences are the center of a lot of what happens in the season premiere. Along with the return of a veteran Deadliest Catch captain, whom Sig convinces to return to the seas in one last effort to catch his quota and help save the fleet.
There are a number of funny moments in the season premiere, ranging from Sig's casual approach to his own idea about sharing to the surprise that greets one captain after he decides to lie about how well he's doing with his crab pots. And it's fun to see Sig struggling to figure out how to deal with his daughter Mandy, who is co-captaining the Northwestern and who sometimes has a very different idea of how the boat should be run.
It's amazing to be how well Deadliest Catch has held up over the years. Some of the faces have changed and the production style has evolved over the show's run. But what hasn't changed is the show's ability to be consistently entertaining without feeling as if every moment is guided by producers or manipulated in the editing process.
I've only seen the first episode of the season, so I don't know where it's all headed. But if this season of Deadliest Catch is anything like the previous sixteen, it'll be a fun roller coaster ride.
Deadliest Catch premieres Tuesday, April 20th, 2021 on Discovery. The episode is already available on the streaming service Discovery+