What is it about a life on the water that calls to so many of us? Is it the way that the air, heavy with salt and sea, feels in our lungs? Or maybe it's that feeling of the unknown mingled with the scent of danger that holds our fascination. The Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel, which features men fishing in one of the world's most unforgiving climates, has clearly connected with this deeper curiosity about what life at sea is really like.
Located on along the Alaskan coast on the Bering Sea, the generations-old industry of king crab fishing is still one of the most challenging professions in the country. Airing in 2005, the Discovery Channel has captivated an audience with stories of the people who not only risk their lives for this profession but also seem to enjoy it.
As is expected in reality TV, the characters are both endearing and irritating, but mostly, they are fascinating. The cameras catch a lot of the crazy moments that happen on board these boats during the fishing season, but they also miss quite a few. These are the things that the cast wish they could keep hidden and those that the cameras managed to catch.
24 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: One of the Storms was Sort of Faked
Storms are no surprise, but fake storms? In some of the worlds roughest ocean waters that is a bit of a surprise. One of the storms from the fourth season of the series was much tamer than producers wanted the audience to believe, creating a bit of controversy when it was found out. To create the effect of the higher-intensity storm, the filming was edited to include only the most violent clips from the storm pieced together with a flood from a completely different storm that had been filmed at a different time. It was not entirely fake according to the Discovery Channel, the footage was all real technically speaking, simply pieced together to appear a certain way.
23 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: One Captain Was Reeling In Illegal Crabs
There are very strict rules about what fishermen can catch, where they catch them, and how. Of all the regulations that are meant to keep these fisheries stable, one of the biggest is in regards to size. Keeping undersized crabs from this super valuable industry is illegal, and it can cost you. Elliot Neese, captain of the Star fishing boat featured on the show, learned this the hard way when he was originally fined $6,000 after an inspection revealed multiple under regulation sized crabs in his haul.
22 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: They Sell Their Catch to Red Lobster
The famous 50-year-old seafood chain often seen at strip malls and along highways throughout is more conscious of what they put on their plates than you might expect. One model they love for sustainable fishing in the U.S.A.? Alaska. It turns out that on top of being the ingredients for a tasty meal, the crab at Red Lobster restaurants may also have made an appearance on TV at some point. Captains Casey McManus and Josh Harris, both featured on the DC, revealed that they do, in fact, sell to the restaurant chain.
21 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: Captains can make millions in just a matter of days
The work of the fishermen is certainly not easy, but, it can come with ample rewards. Since the show’s beginning, it’s popularity has skyrocketed. These days, the captains of the fishing companies featured on DC are raking in millions of dollars in a single season, sometimes even in a single week. Josh Harris, captain of the Cornelia Maria, stated that a successful catch can net them $2 million in a mere two days time, not bad for a bunch of fishermen.
20 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: There is no sound crew aboard the boats, and usually only two cameramen
The fishermen aboard these boats are not just fishing. Though they have earned fame and fortune through the series, these are still working fishing boats, built to hold only their crew. There is no room on board for anything excess. Because of this, there is usually only two cameramen on board a boat at any given time and no sound crew. Instead of overseeing the filming as it happens, audio supervisor Mike Morrell needs to have the crew trained in the sound equipment before they leave the docks. Fishermen and audio producers, is there anything this crew can’t do?
19 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: This boat captain was sued over fireworks
Beaver sued the Hillstrands companies, owners of the Time Bandit boat featured on the show, and won. After a firework explosion went wrong, Beaver injured his hand and brought the case to court. In real life “Beaver” is David Zelinski, a crabber who worked on board the Time Bandit boat featured on the DC. Beaver claims he was told to fire the homemade firework at a different crabbing boat by the captain. The firework did not detonate properly injuring Beaver’s hand and terminating his lifelong career as a crabber. The DC was filming the crew for its 13th season at the time of the accident but the footage of the incident has since been lost.
18 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: The Discovery Channel camera guys often become buddies with the crew
There is two camera crew on each boat featured in the Discovery Channel series. Of these two, one usually hangs out in the wheelhouse with the captain and the other out on deck with the rest of the crew. The cameramen live onboard the boat with the fishermen, and, as is told by Captain Bill Wichrowski, they often become good buddies of the crew. They spend more time together than they do with their respective families when in season. The quantity of uninterrupted time together and the kinds of things they face while out at sea make for a special bond that often continues far past the film set.
17 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: As dangerous as crab fishing looks, normal people still think they can do it
Part of the appeal of the show is the danger factor. The dramatic episodes feature a lifestyle of mostly death-defying work, with the occasional tragedy showcasing just how dangerous the job really is. As the name suggests, people do die to work as crab fishermen in the Bering Sea. In spite of this, the captains of the crews on DC get regular people, from the general public reaching out to them with requests to “give it a try for a day” or for the boats to take them on as crewmembers. It’s a TV show, yes, but it is first and foremost a skilled job that requires experience, yet many of the viewers may be missing that piece.
16 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: Crabs are not actually "the" catch
Crab fishing in the Bering Sea is actually not the scary sea creature caught off the coast of the U.S. In fact, it is not even in the top 3. While the dangers of fishing in the Bering Sea and extreme challenges that the fishermen face are very much real, the danger of them dying while working, is, thankfully, less than it is made out to be. What are the actual scary catches? From the years 2000-2009, groundfish in the Atlantic Ocean ranked as number one, with Atlantic scallops and Dungeness crabs in the Pacific coming in at second and third respectively for on the job deaths.
15 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: “Ghost pots” can catch as many crabs as active fishermen during a season
All forms of fishing leave debris behind. Lines, lures, and in the case of crab fishing, crab pots, will break off from the boat and drift off into the ocean. The Bering Sea is littered with these lost pots, referred to as “ghost pots”. While detached from boats, the pots are still fully functional and will continue to catch crabs even though there is no way for the fishermen to pull them up. Instead, the crabs will become injured or die once becoming trapped, thus attracting more live crabs into the pot. This cycle can catch and kill as many crabs during the fishing season as the actual fishery does.
14 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: Crab fishermen don’t make as much money as you’d think
Fishing is expensive, especially this kind of fishing. The cost to operate, maintain, and staff a full crab fishing boat in Alaskan waters is extremely high. Captains, then, are in a constant battle to make ends meet against the deficit. Generally speaking, the boats on the DC make more money than most. Off the show, however, the average fisherman on a crab boat has a lot of personal costs to cover. On top of the fishing license needed to fish for crab on a commercial boat, which tops out at $125, most boats require the crew members to bring their own, very expensive, gear. Unless it is an exceptional season, the payout is not huge to both covers the upfront costs invested by each fisherman and make a livable wage after the fact. A greenhorn will likely make, on average, 1.5-5% of the net worth of the catch after the owners' costs are subtracted or get paid a daily fee of up to $100/day. For the kind of work that crab fishing demands, this does not seem like nearly enough.
13 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: It is so much more than a job
Beyond the cameras of DC, beyond the paycheck, and well beyond the hype and fame that the industry is currently experiencing, there is something much more genuine and interesting at stake. To those who fish for crab in the Bering Sea, fishing is not just as a job, it is an identity. When tragedy strikes, there is a shared sadness amongst the community. The colleagues and friends are honored and respected, but even during those harsh times, there is never a question about going back to sea. Fishermen and crew have spoken of their failed relationships and extremely difficult lifestyle, but they also speak of a fear of retirement and not knowing how they will ever give it all up. In spite of the dangers and hardships that come with living like a king crab fisherman, there is a pride in the work and a belonging to this very unique community.
12 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: The Crew Does Not Eat Their Own Catch
They catch them, handle them, stack them and store them, but the crews on board the DC don’t spend much time eating the crabs they pull from the Bering Sea. While it may be surprising at first, it actually makes sense that the fishermen would skip eating their catch. Each and every crab is valuable. The crew spends so much time and energy in this work that it is not worth it for them to indulge in as a meal. Also, you have to wonder if working with crabs all day every day for months on end would make you lose an appetite for it.
11 Things the Cast Wanted to Keep Hidden: The Show May Be Making Other Fishermen’s Lives Harder
The DC has brought huge amounts of wealth and success to crab fishing boats in the Bering Sea, but only a lucky few. Those featured on the show are paid to do so in addition to having their expenses subsidized by the Discovery Channel. As a result, they are making a decent living off of their fishing businesses. In fact, this has turned fishermen into millionaires throughout the show's lifespan. But for those boats that are not featured, this setup complicates an already fragile working environment based on quotas and leasing. For some, they see the show as destroying the industry that it seeks to promote.
10 Moments Caught on Camera: Fishermen going overboard
The ocean is what makes the DC so, well, scary. Wild storms, strong currents, and near-freezing water temperatures are a near-constant source of danger for the fishermen aboard these boats. In season fourteen, a crew member’s life was put at risk when he was tossed into the 34-degree waters of the Bering Sea. When other boats had stopped dropping their pots into the thrashing ocean during a rough storm, the Summer Bay continued, and Spencer Moore was pulled overboard. Thankfully the crew reacted quickly and pulled Moore to safety. Their resourcefulness likely saved his life. Although this was one of many times when someone ended up in the sea off the boat on the DC, it never gets any less scary.
9 Moments Caught on Camera: A changing climate may be the show’s biggest threat
The Bering Sea has warmed considerably since the start of the show. When the temperature and environment change in a system, like in this sea, the animals change. The crabs will move as the temperatures move. If they require colder water, they will leave to find it. The 13th season of DC touches on this without wading into the adjacent debate regarding the cause of the warmer water. This season started the story that follows how the fishermen keep their search for crab alive in a changing world. It will be interesting to see how this develops in the future.
8 Moments Caught on Camera: A Giant Rogue Wave
Cameras on board the Aleutian Ballad, a boat from the earlier seasons of DC, were filming during a particularly rough night at sea. With the focus on the captain in the wheelhouse, the camera suddenly takes a hit as a huge, rogue wave, hits the boat. Filmed in 2005, this was, and remains, one of the few times that a rogue wave has been captured on camera. This particular wave was estimated to be 60 feet high, a huge force coming down on the fishing boat. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured at the time.
7 Moments Caught on Camera: A Family Mourning the Death of this Captain
Phil Harris, arguably one of the most likable captains on the DC, passed away during the show’s sixth season. After making peace with his son regarding his addiction just moments before, Harris had a stroke off camera. The cameras were rolling, however, when they found Harris and in the moments that followed. He regained consciousness only to pass away days later. The moving episode shows Phil’s son getting the call from the doctor and his reaction to the death, probably one of the more vulnerable scenes from a reality show, ever.
6 Moments Caught on Camera: A Crew Member Leaping Overboard onto a Floating Walrus
One walrus tusk can fetch over $5,000, but finding a walrus in the Bering Sea is incredibly rare. Maybe that’s what drives one crew member aboard the Wizard to make what most would consider being a very foolish decision. In the show’s ninth season, the ship comes across what they call a “floater”, a floating walrus carcass, while out at sea. After struggling to wrap the rope around the carcass, Freddy Maugatai leaps from the deck into the water despite screaming from the captain and crew to stay onboard. He attempts to lasso the carcass in the water before the less than two minutes are up that he has to avoid potential hypothermia.
5 Moments Caught on Camera: The boats weathering a Typhoon
One of the most intense storms to ever hit the North Pacific, Typhoon Nuri rolled off the coast of Japan and right onto the DC. Three of the boats that are normally featured on the show, including the Wizard and the Northwestern, were too far out to get back to land before the storm hit, leaving them no choice but to wait it out. And of course, why waste time if you’re out anyway? The boats continued to fish through unpredictable seas and bad weather, though they managed to miss the roughest bits of the storm.
4 Moments Caught on Camera: Honoring a fallen boat
During the 13th season, the unthinkable happens. Sig Hansen receives the call that no fishing boat captain ever wants to get. The Destination, another boat that fishes for crab on the Bering Sea, disappears. The ensuing search reveals floating debris, suggesting that the boat likely sank. Hansen begins to cry at the news, as do others as they find out the fate of their friends and colleagues. In a later episode, an emotional memorial shows just how much the tragedy means to the crews on board these other boats. Months later, the Destination was finally found at the bottom of the sea.
3 Moments Caught on Camera: The Saga Weathering a Massive 55 Foot Wave
Large waves and rough seas are a given on the DC, but they are not all created equal. In the midst of an especially rough fishing trip, the crew aboard the Saga gets a surprise hit from behind by a massive 55-foot wave. The wave crashes into the boat, covering the entire deck and tossing the ship around for a few scary moments. The captain screams to the deck a “Head’s Up” seconds before the wave hits and the crew manages to scramble to safety, hanging on to the sides of the boat and running to shelter.
2 Moments Caught on Camera: The Fire Onboard the Northwestern
The only thing scarier than taking on the water in the middle of the ocean? Fire. It may seem counterintuitive to fear fire when surrounded by water, but it can be a ship’s worst nightmare out at sea. The crew onboard the Northwestern had to face this fear in season 12, which captain Sig Hansen ranks as one of the most extreme experiences he’s had on board the boat. Coming from this veteran seaman, that’s saying something. The crew reacted quickly to the fire and no one was seriously injured, but it gave everyone a good scare. Hansen tells Channel Guide Magazine that the feelings came after the fire was out. “The fire kind of gets you after the fact because you have to react so quickly, but then you really see it after the fact when you get it out. You’re thinking, ‘Boy, you know, you’re in the middle of nowhere and had it been a different time of day or had the guys not responded as well as they did …’ That’s when you see it.”
1 Moments Caught on Camera: When the Time Bandit Thought they Lost a Crew Member.
Huge waves that come out of nowhere, what the crew refers to as rogue waves, send the boats and those on board scrambling throughout the entire series. However, the terror of the wave usually comes after it has gone when the crew checks to make sure no one was taken with it. After surprising the boat and crew, there is a count to make sure everyone stayed on board. On the Time Bandit, when a rogue 35-foot wave hits seemingly out of nowhere in the middle of the night, one crew member is unaccounted for. After a few frantic moments, James, the missing man, hops up from behind the crab pots where he had sheltered himself during the wave.