COVID-19’s effect worldwide certainly was bound to have an impact on the Bering Sea crabbing industry. Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, which premieres its 19th season tonight (see trailer above) had its own issues with the virus, from the captains of the vessels vowing to work together in an attempt to make quota, to one crew member showing symptoms and sending his boat into isolation/panic mode. (Recently, our former cover subject, Capt. Keith Colburn, announced he tested positive and was recovering after being hospitalized.)
We chatted with Capt. Sig Hansen about the challenges he and the other boats faced during the most recent season (the boats were also going into the waters blindly when the pandemic prevented the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from performing its preseason survey.
SIG HANSEN PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL
We’ll post the full interview with Hansen when our May issue comes out, but here’s a sneak peek of our conversation with the gregarious Hansen:
Chris Cocoles Because of COVID, was this a season like no other for what you had to go through, prepare for and try to avoid infections?
Sig Hansen It was probably one of the more difficult just to get the season to begin and get us started – because we didn’t know how to start. That’s the problem. With all the different protocols – we had a different protocol on our own vessel; we have protocols by the state of Alaska; there is a protocol in Dutch Harbor and for each individual town. And it was so difficult to get started on all of our backup plans for the fleet and for the processors and government. So, just getting started was a hurdle.
CC Were all of you on your boat and other boats on edge the whole time with the threat of the pandemic hovering over you and knowing that your operation could be shut down at any moment?
SH Oh, absolutely. Getting started, like I said, and then waiting for the next five, seven or 10 days even after that. You’re literally counting the days on the calendar looking for symptoms. We’re checking the crew twice daily – (checking) temperatures – the whole nine yards. Paranoia had set in without question. And then, after the first 10 (or) 12 days, we could start to relax a little more about it as far as COVID was concerned. And then just going to the dock, there were different protocols there. I’ve got friends who were in different fisheries as well, where if they spend four months fishing up there, they never got off that little boat one time in four months. We were not even allowed to step on the dock to sign our fish tickets or to deliver sometimes. Even just to get some of the gear that we needed. It was delivered to the boats. So it was a really different experience for everybody as a whole. …
CC You’ve been doing this for a long time, but what did you learn about yourself during this most unique time in your career?
SH We always say safety first. This was a whole different ball game. It rang true. You had to have more patience. I always put safety first, but this time you had to really think about the industry as a whole. Everything was such on a large scale. But with safety, I was not only thinking about myself because of my (previous) heart attacks, and, of course, my crew, but also for the fleet as a whole. I did see everything from a broader scale. You still wanted to see everyone stay safe. But I still have the passion.
Here’s the Discovery Channel’s press release on the new season:
(LOS ANGELES) – In the wake of the global pandemic, half the crab boats of the Bering Sea fleet are tied up in Seattle. Now an existential threat faces the fishermen who make the long-haul trip to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for the 2021 Crab season – a potential closure of the entire fishery. Crabbing isn’t just a way of life for the captains and their crew. This year, it’s a fight for the industry’s survival. If they’re going to make it work, the fleet will need to make sacrifices and band together across lines – even with long-sworn enemies. Their livelihood depends on it or they could potentially face the end of their careers.DEADLIEST CATCH returns with a season like no other before, streaming exclusively first on Friday, March 19 on discovery+, ahead of the season premiere airing Tuesday, April 20 at 8 PM ET/PT on Discovery.
It’s been a tough year for everyone, especially for the crabbing fleet in Alaska. Due to government-imposed lockdowns, Alaska Department of Fish and Game weren’t able to conduct their summer crab survey. Meaning this year, the captains will be fishing blind with no charts or guidance on where to find crab on the grounds – making an already challenging season even more difficult. It doesn’t take long for the captains to realize that they can’t start this season without a new approach.
Spearheading their defense is Captain Sig Hansen from the F/V Northwestern – who proposes a two-pronged plan to save the fishery. First, Sig needs someone who isn’t afraid to stick his neck out. And there is only one person that comes to mind – his good friend and legendary crabber Johnathan Hillstrand.
Johnathan would bring a massive operation, as commander of the F/V Time Bandit, and could provide a lifeline to help catch the fleet’s towering 5-million-pound fall season quota. But will Johnathan agree to come out of retirement? And leave behind everything and everyone he loves during such difficult times?
Sig’s second strategy goes against everything the old-time crabbers have ever done before – working together as a pack. It’s a huge risk and requires honesty and cooperation from everyone. But can the captains put the good of the fleet ahead of their own interests? Some of them have their doubts.
Just days ahead of the season launch, Captain Keith Colburn of the F/V Wizard has his own set of problems. His WW2-era boat is in need of maintenance, and the captain desperately needs a fruitful season to pay for his upcoming shipyard. Enter Captain Scott Campbell Jr. of the F/V Lady Alaska. Scott believes he has secret intel on where to find crab. Scott hatches a plan to share his intel with longtime rival Keith in exchange for quota. However, when he approaches him, things don’t go exactly as Scott had hoped.
On the F/V Saga, Captain Jake Anderson is back and aiming to secure more quota. But will this young captain be able to pull off a successful season when he’s come up empty in the past? Or will F/V Northwestern’s reserve captain, Mandy Hansen, enlist Jake in her own plan to tank their combined share of the total crab quota?
Also returning this year are Captains Josh Harris and Casey McManus of the F/V Cornelia Marie. This year, they struggled to find a strong crew and must call upon their business partner Jeff Silva from Hawaii to join them. Though Jeff proves that he puts the green in greenhorn shortly after setting sail.
Finally, rounding out the fleet this year is Captain Wild Bill and the F/V Summer Bay. His crew has faced incredible loss this past year including the passing of deckhand Mahlon Reyes, who suffered a deadly heart attack at the young age of 38 years old. Bill and his crew honor Mahlon’s memory by giving him a proper fisherman’s burial at sea before setting off on the new crabbing season. But just as they attempt to leave the dock, crew member Nick McGlashan suddenly falls ill with a fever. Will Bill even be able to leave in time? Or will he be out of the fishing game for good this season as his crew must isolate from each other?
Forty-foot waves, government shutdowns, global pandemics and hurricane force winds are just a few reasons that no season is ever the same. DEADLIEST CATCH returns for its 17th season facing even more challenges than ever before. Will the legends step it up? Or will the pandemic and its aftermath decimate the crabbing industry for good, like so many other businesses?
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DEADLIEST CATCH is produced for Discovery by Original Productions, a Fremantle company. For Original Productions, Executive Producers are Jeff Hasler, Brian Lovett, Ernie Avila, Arom Starr-Paul, Thom Beers and Co-Executive Producers Johnny Beechler and Geoff Miller. For Discovery, Executive Producers are Joseph Boyle and Bill Howard with Coordinating Producer Cameron Doyle. To learn more, go to www.discovery.com, on Facebook at Facebook.com/discovery and on Twitter @Discovery.