UNALASKA, Alaska — Around this Aleutian island and nearby Dutch Harbor, the “Deadliest Catch” boats are easy to spot.
They have cameras mounted above the decks. They can have well-dressed producers standing on the dock and, on occasion, being chased by helicopters buzzing overhead as they race through the bays of the island.
This year, nine crabbers from the Bering Sea will appear on the 18th season of the Discovery Channel show, which premieres on April 19. This represents almost a quarter of the 39 vessels registered as of March 21 to fish snow crab during the 2022 harvest, which has been significantly reduced. due to conservation concerns.
Some are smaller boats that may have more difficulty navigating the cold, choppy waters of the northern Bering Sea, where surveys indicate most crabs were this year. But with the money paid by Discovery, their captains had plenty of extra incentive to continue crabbing – and keeping their crews employed – in 2022 rather than transferring small catch quotas to bigger boats.
The amount of “deadliest catch” injected into the crab fleet is largely confidential.
Shortly after the show debuted in 2005, David Lethin, owner of the Aleutian Ballad, said he was paid $10,000 for featuring his ship and crew on the show during the season. king crab and an additional $10,000 for harvesting snow crab.
Over the years, the TV series has gained worldwide popularity, and the skippers featured on the show repeatedly have become celebrities.
“I can’t tell you much or I’ll be in trouble.” But that’s good,” said Jake Anderson, who appeared on ‘Deadliest Catch’ for 16 years and is now captain of the 107ft Saga, an older boat built in 1979.
The show is imbued with images of crabbers facing rough seas.
The Ballad of the Aleutians was involved in a famous episode that aired in the show’s second season. A rogue wave captured by the camera overturned the vessel on its side and the flooding caused the engines to shut down. Somehow the boat righted and the crew was able to return to port safely.
In a notorious incident caught on TV cameras, a Wizard crew member lost most of his clothes and jumped overboard in a failed attempt to help bring a putrid, dead walrus back on board , valued for its tusks.
But there’s also room to pretend, as seen in a January photo posted on Facebook that has been circulating among the fleet.
Photo shows a member of a production crew wielding a garden hose spraying a deluge of water over the head of Northwestern skipper Sig Hansen as he walked through the gate of Dutch Harbor airport. It gave the impression that Hansen was arriving in bad weather even though the blue sky was above our heads.
The producers of “Deadliest Catch” said in a written statement that for promotional and marketing shots, on “very rare occasions”, pipes are used to “reproduce the real-life conditions” the crab fleet faces.
Sig Hansen’s airport photo has been making the rounds for puzzled crab captains as they prepare to start the winter snow crab season.
“I would never do that,” Seattle-based Pinnacle captain Mark Casto said.
Casto acknowledges that “Deadliest Catch” has been a marketing boon for Alaskan crab, but the fake rain is one more reminder why he’s okay with his boat staying out of the show.
Casto’s wife, Kristen Casto, is also relieved that Pinnacle doesn’t feature in Deadliest Catch. She married Casto fresh out of high school and endured the decades of seasonal separation from their home in Mukilteo.
She feared an accident would happen on board the boat and then end up being replayed over and over again on TV.
“I don’t need my kids to see this. We don’t need that in our lives,” she said.
Some crabbers say some ‘Deadliest Catch’ skippers take extra risks to inject more drama into the show.
Pinnacle crew member Jack Bunnell previously worked on Anderson’s saga. He said that on occasion, to make better pictures, the captain beat the boat in the seas. He then instructed the crew to place the pots into the wind so they were exposed to the waves coming on board, rather than turning the ship around to provide more protection on the lee side.
“You have to make it exciting, somehow,” Bunnell said. “What we do, carrying pots around the clock, is boring.”
Bunnell had an accident on the Saga when a steel-framed pot detached from a pitcher, slamming painfully into his leg.
The accident happened as Anderson pushed the crew to transport at a rapid pace and aired in 2019. Shortly before this footage, a crew member is shown on camera stating that “safety is not a factor at the moment”.
Bunnell left that injury. He was later fired from the saga when he challenged Anderson and went out for a drink by the sea, an incident also aired on the show.
“It was (‘Deadliest Catch’) a lot of fun; I’m not going to lie. But, for me, it wasn’t a lot of money, and the Pinnacle is a much better boat,” Bunnell said.
Anderson says he won’t put the team at increased risk to try and create a better scene.
“I’ve never … done anything deliberately dangerous for effect on television,” Anderson said.
The Saga crew is pushed harder once the cameras and the scrutiny they bring are off the boat, Anderson said.
The producers of Deadliest Catch said, “We do not compromise safety for television purposes. Our film crews are guests on the captains’ boats, and they manage and operate their boats independently from the TV crews.