Discovery: Welcome to our live chat with Sig Hansen, captain of the Northwestern and one of the stars of “Deadliest Catch.” He’s ready and willing to answer as many questions as you can ask in one hour’s time. So ask away.
Kevin: Sig, I’ve been watching the show since it started and the whole time I’ve been wondering, how could I be a greenhorn on one of the boats?
Sig: As far as being a greenhorn I think the easiest way is to get up to Dutch Harbor — a lot of the fish companies hire quite a few people. They beat the docks, meet the fishermen, and that’s a good way to get started.
onewhowaits: Could you tell us the scariest experience you have had on the Bering Sea?
Sig: There have been many, but one in particular was when a rogue wave took us from the starboard side and it was something I’ll never forget. We were in 30-plus-foot seas and she lifted, came down, swamped our deck, actually flooded our galley. We did have a full load of pots on board. We’ve tried to sink her, but it hasn’t worked so far. Ha ha!
mebeme23: Sig, what are the largest pod counts you have had for oppies and kings?
Sig: We’ve had well over 200 king crab and well over 1,000 oppies [opilio crab] on average, which is tremendous.
Val: Sig, one more question. Have there been any women selected as greenhorns? If so, how many that you are aware of?
Sig: I can recall a boat had a woman captain and they did quite well. I’m not sure if it was an all-female crew. I think there were a couple female crew members. There was a boat here a few years ago that had a female crew member and the crew bragged about her; said things went smoothly.
jofis07: What is done with the Northwestern when it is not being used for crab fishing?
Sig: We participate in the cod fishery and that’s in the winter months. Sometimes in September we’ll participate in fishing cod. Also, we do cod charters, and charter the boat out. It’s more a tender vessel I guess you’d say. We purchase fish for the fish companies. We also do salmon charters during the summer.
fanhansen: Besides the bad weather, was the quota system easier this year?
Sig: It was easier due to the fact we knew what we were able to catch beforehand. There was less stress in that department, but then along with new regulations there come new obstacles. It’s a learning curve for all of us in the industry.
bradat74: What was the longest time you spent at sea on one trip?
Sig: We have fished out west, along the Aleutian Chain (ADAK) and we would take part in the red king crab fishery in November and December. So, I would say a month or a month and a half before we hit the docks again.
Indian1348: How long is the crab season?
Sig: We used to fish from January through July and August — normally it depends on the quota and the number of boats participating. Four or five months was pretty normal. Back in the day, king crab was year round. These days, there are so many more boats and it’s overcapitalized; the quotas have also dwindled. So, we have found ourselves in a race for crab, competing against the other boats. We’re lucky to see a week or two with the Olympic style. Today, with the new system, the seasons are open from October until May, which gives us a large amount of time to catch the crab in a safe manner.
Bob_from_NJ: Do the crab populations fluctuate year to year??
Sig: Yes, the population fluctuates — and not always due to overfishing, but due to harvesting of other species. For example, bottom fish feed on crab larvae and the soft shell crab, so a lot of the fluctuation in the crab population is due to natural mortality.
mebeme23: Sig, I see Edgar is the “chef” of the boat … What other talents does he have?
Sig: Right now Edgar is actually the engineer. He did cook for quite some time as well. I, myself, started out cooking at age 18 or 19, I think it was. That’s what makes Edgar an all-around good deckhand. He can do most any job that needs to be done. He’s very versatile.
DJL: Do you ever eat the crabs you catch for dinner at sea?
Sig: No. When we do eat, we try to have a decent meal and there’s a lot of steak and roast. We try to enjoy a decent meal. Once in a while, we’ll have crab but it’s not that often.
sox_fan_1: What do you and the rest of the crew do (besides rest) when you are not fishing? Do you have another job? If you are ever in Chicago I’ll take you smelt fishing. Thanks.
Sig: We’re active politically with the fishing industry, especially now with the new system. When the boat is down in Seattle, like now for example, there’s yardwork to be done. You’re basically never done — it’s always in your mind, the next season or the next activity we’re taking. It’s a full-time, year-round job.
wolfy-hound: Is it inconvenient to have the camera crews on board? Thanks so much for coming here to answer questions.
Sig: At times, yes. But I soon learned that not only do you have to take charge of your crew, but your camera crew as well. There is a line you have to draw with them, because they’re trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability but sometimes they forget they’re on a boat. They’re there to get the shot and I understand that. It’s nice to keep them alive in the process.
paniclover91: Sig — What is the worst practical joke you have played on someone, and what is the worst that has been played on you?
Sig: I can remember a time fishing when we were sharing information and I did give an incorrect bearing on some crab as payback. So, the boat was basically running in circles after a catch that wasn’t there.
lowski: What exactly is salted cod? Is it like lutefisk?
Sig: Salted cod is a cod fillet that’s laid in salt; the salt takes the moisture from the fish. That will keep the fish preserved so you can eat it later. It’s delicious. It’s nothing like lutefisk, and even I can’t eat it.
jeanie: How many siblings do you have and are they all in the fishing business?
Sig: I have two brothers. Norman is one year younger than I am; Edgar is, I think, five years younger — he’s 35. Yes, we all fish on the same boat. We’ve all fished on other boats as well.
sgunn83: Captain Sig, which season do you enjoy better, red crab or king?
Sig: They’re both the same — maybe you meant king or opilio? My favorite is red king crab. There’s more excitement only because the price is so much greater, and when you do land on a decent school it’s just amazing to see the kind of money a guy can make when you hit them big.
fish4life: Even though I am not a fourth-generation fisherman, I am a fourth-generation pipefitter. How do you feel about being a fourth-generation fisherman and the pride associated with it? P.S.: Your trick was funny as heck.
Sig: Our roots stem from a very small town off the coast of Norway. My great grandfather and grandfather are on the wall of that museum, so for us there could be no greater pride. They were fishermen in Norway, but it carries through.
cptfat: With the unpredictable weather and seas, what is the determining factor for going on or back to port, etc.? Is it weather reports, wind, just gut feeling or something else?
Sig: We’ve never gone back to port. As far as deciphering how you’re going to play the game, you have to predict the weather yourself. So, you need to take weather forecasts regularly and sometimes you’re second-guessing the weatherman.
highliner: Out of all the other boats that are not shown on this show, what are some of the great ones that you know about that are still fishing today?
Sig: There are quite a few boats that have great reputations that have done great over the years. And normally the ones that have done well always seem to do above average. There’s quite a few that I have great respect for.
fremontwhite: How old is your boat?
Sig: She was built in 1977. She’s better today than she was when she was new.
StephD: Captain Sig, is the same amount of rope on all of the pots, and how do you know how deep it will go?
Sig: The pots consist of two shots of line; one line is a poly that floats and one line is a nylon that sinks. Most of the boats use two shots 33 fathom each — the sinking line is on top near the buoys, and the floating line is on the bottom near the pot, which keeps the line off the pot.
fish4life: What is a good recipe for crab from a crab fisherman, besides boiling them?
Sig: I took a few live crab many years ago and we did have a cookout at our neighborhood Chinese restaurant. I didn’t know you could stir-fry, steam, and cook crab in so many different ways. It was delicious.
yungswede: Where did you get your start fishing? How old were you when you were a greenhorn in the Bering Sea for the first time?
Sig: The first time, I was 12 in the Bering Sea, and probably not much help. By age 14, I would be gone two weeks prior to school getting out and I would usually return just before school started. I’d spend my summers fishing salmon and crab. It was a lot of fun and I think I made the teachers jealous if you compared their income to mine at the time. Ha ha!
fremontwhite: How many pounds of crab can your boat hold?
Sig: We can hold about 220,000 pounds of opilio and about 180,000 pounds of king.
BRob: How much sleep do you get being captain?
Sig: When I’m cod fishing, I average six hours in three days when we’re going at it hard. And we have fished through crab seasons with an hour here and there depending on where our pots were located. Over the years, we have had more systematic ways of sleeping but I usually take the brunt of it, and the crew has their own patterns.
beachdarryl: How cold do the water temperatures get in the Bering Sea?
Sig: That depends on where you are in the Bering Sea. Cold enough for salt water to form ice, I can tell you that.
fzr400: Is there an age limit for working the deck?
Sig: No, as long as you can pay your taxes you can fish crab.
petsisme: Hi, Sig. Have you ever NOT had the biggest haul?
Sig: When we go out to fish we don’t try to have the biggest haul — we just try to do the best we can. That’s the same for every boat out there. We’ve been doing quite well these last few years. Although I remember out in ADAK we went into a hole where I owed $300 to the boat after a month away. So, it’s not all glory.
lowski: Do you feel that it is unlucky to have a woman on board the Northwestern? Or any boat in general when fishing for crab?
Sig: This is something for me that’s been embedded into my brain as a kid. Women have been known to be bad luck in the past and this is some sailors’ superstition. Personally, no. I wouldn’t consider them bad luck. Whether or not they’re capable is up to the person.
Lizzy: Sig, love the show!!! Northwestern is my favorite boat — no lie. Have you gotten a ton of fan mail since the start of the “Deadliest Catch”?
Sig: Absolutely! It’s been overwhelming and it’s flattering. I never would have thought that it would generate so much interest. It doesn’t surprise me in a way, though, because it seems like every time I meet somebody and we talk about our occupations, we always end up talking about fishing. Whether it’s someone you meet on a plane or wherever — a teacher, scientist or any occupation I’ve heard of — the conversation always goes back to fishing.
grand_banks_: Hey, Sig! You ever fished on the East Coast?
Sig: No, I haven’t. My wife was born on the East Coast before they moved back to Norway and it’s been a place that I always wanted to visit. And it does sound like their fisheries and the politics involved, it sounds like those guys got it together.
beachdarryl: How do you navigate if you lose GPS?
Sig: We still have a Loran-C on board that we have as backup. We have GPS units and if that doesn’t work, I’ll wing it.
highliner: Is this show a fair representation of how decisions are made on your vessel? I mean, do you guys always take a vote if there is a decision to be made, or do you just do what you seem to think is best?
Sig: Even if we do take a vote, which seldom happens, and the guys know this, we end up doing what my first thought was anyway. It’s kind of an ongoing joke among me and my crew.
edro: How many details are deleted from the show? Who captains the boat when you are sleeping?
Sig: There are quite a few details deleted, but keep in mind they are trying to make a show. And as far as when I sleep, if we do take a few hours off, then we’ll take watches and a watch can range from 30 minutes to an hour and 30 minutes apiece. Or we may just drift for a couple of hours with no one at the helm. The Coast Guard doesn’t like it, but you’ve got to sleep sometime.
fish4life: What keeps you and the crew going during long days at sea?
Sig: It’s our job, so we don’t know or care about anything else. A lot of coffee and a lot of chocolate and the right attitude never hurt.
wahooman: Do you like to rod and reel fish at all, and if so, where and what do you go for?
Sig: We live in the Puget Sound, so there are times when there is salmon fishing for us. We do have a small boat that we like to go up and relax, kick back and fish.
Shelly: Do you still work at all on deck? If not, do you miss it?
Sig: No, I don’t work on deck anymore. And, yes, I miss the fact that when things are clicking down there it’s a lot of fun. Being in the wheel house is the exact opposite and you’re always nervous and you’re always having to pay attention and you’re always thinking ahead of your next move. Sometimes the guys on deck forget that, and it’s pretty nice down there when the weather’s nice. I don’t miss it when it’s blowing 50 and it’s freezing. Who would?!
purdue_dave: I was just wondering how many engines you have on your boat, and how much maintenance you need to give them?
Sig: We have one main engine, a 1300 hp Cat. We have auxiliary, 3306 Cats. We have one 4-cylinder Cat. They are our lifeline and there is always maintenance.
ivegotcrabs: Has anyone ever stolen crabs from someone else’s pots?
Sig: People tend to check other people’s gear to see what is in the area. I, myself, think it’s pretty cheesy. I think I’ve checked three pots in my lifetime that weren’t mine. And curiosity did kill the cat … I found it’s better to fish your own pots — do your own thing and you always come out on top.
glewisfly: Captain Sig, have you had a large number of applications for work, now that your boat is a famous TV boat?
Sig: Absolutely, and if the boat was 1,000 feet long I could hire these people. We have a crew that’s been there for many years and this is one of the reasons why I think we’ve done well. Knowing each other the way that we do keeps us safe — each guy knows the other guy’s moves. It’s flattering, but we just don’t have the room.
lfa34: How did you like the retaliation from the Cornelia Marie?
Sig: We’re on the West Coast, so I haven’t seen the show yet.
DDY007310: What kind of emergency medical training has your crew had?
Sig: We partake in safety drills, which are mandatory for the vessels at least once a month. Through organizations here in Seattle we have gone through medical training and safety courses. I hold a captain’s license, so most of these are mandatory for me.
brandy_h: How did your boat get chosen to be one of the 89 fishing boats sent this year? What happens to the other boats?
Sig: We weren’t chosen. We chose to fish. Many of the other boats that weren’t there chose not to fish. With the new regulations the boat owner opted to lease their craft. In doing so, they don’t risk sending their boat out, yet income is earned.
dungy_fisher: How come you guys set east to west, not north to south?
Sig: If I set east to west, it would have been because of weather conditions. If the forecast tells me that there’s prevailing easterly or westerly winds, then you set your gear according to what they predict so you can haul the pots later, without being in the ditch if it’s possible.
LA__Billy: What is the average cost per season for boat, crew and equipment?
Sig: The cost varies on the length of the season. Fuel costs have risen, plus you’ve got costs for bait and costs for wear and tear on the boat itself. As far as the average cost, we can spend $100,000 to $200,000 annually without blinking an eye.
crab-lover: Sig, does your crew change every trip?
Sig: No, we have people that seem to come back repeatedly, familiar faces that have been on there.
Butters: With all of the technology out there one would think that crab fishing would be easier and safer than it is, but it looks like it really takes a lot of preparation and hard work to pull it off. Are there any new technological advances that you can see that will change the way crab are fished in the future?
Sig: What you’re looking at is modern. Try imagining what the men went through 30 years ago, without the fancy hydraulics, navigation and large boats. So, I think we are at the peak as far as that goes.
chefhall: Do you sell your catch directly to the processing plant, or do you have anything to do with any of the vendors like Aqua Star, Orion, etc.?
Sig: Yes, there are half a dozen major buyers in Alaska and we sell directly to them, and from there it’s processed and shipped out.
jerseygal: Why don’t your boats have heated handrails like the party boats that go out in the winter in New Jersey?
Sig: They’ve tried that! There have actually been boats with heated water that ran through the rails. But when you add hot water and cold atmosphere then you end up with a boat full of rust.
tnldecicco: Is there any penalty for taking home a few female crabs by accident?
Sig: Absolutely. We try to sort the best we can. A lot of times a female will get caught underneath a large male and they’ll sneak into the tank. They usually give us a 1 to 2 percent grace from a 100 count, a random sample. So, the tanks are inspected.
eagle2006: On average how many of the boats come back empty-handed, since we are generally seeing the boats that do fairly well?
Sig: Not too many come back empty-handed, but there is a scale and let’s say if you have 100,000 pounds opilio average per boat, the last few years we’ve doubled it. Maybe some guys came in with 30 or 40. That’s fishing.
ybor47: How does someone get from the mainland out to Dutch Harbor and the other islands? Are there boats that take tourists?
Sig: There is one boat I know, the Tustemina, I think, travels into Dutch, Akutan, Sand Point and back again through Kodiak, I think. Other than that, you need to leave from Anchorage by plane to one of the islands.
Virginia: If you would not have chosen fishing as your job, what other job would you have picked?
Sig: That is the hardest question the cameramen ask me while they’re out there. To be quite honest, I can’t answer it, because I’ve thought about it and from all the people I’ve met and what I know, I don’t think there’s anything I can compare that can give me the rush, the feeling of accomplishment and being my own boss. I just don’t know what else I could compare it with.
Discovery: Captain Hansen, unfortunately, we’re almost out of time for tonight’s chat. Do you have any final thoughts, before we have to close?
Sig: All I can say is this experience has been more flattering than I ever thought. I’m glad to see that the industry has gained some respect. There have been times in the past when we’ve done well and people never fully understood how you got your paycheck, and been criticized because you were young and they thought you were undeserving, in my opinion. We’re blue collar but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t respect the fact that we earn every penny we make. I think the show gave us the opportunity to show that and it’s many times I wish my friends could see what we’re doing now. It’s just been a pleasure.
Discovery.com: Well, thanks for joining our live chat. In case you missed anything, look for the transcript of this chat on the fan site later this week, and stay tuned to Discovery.com for more “Deadliest Catch” exclusive video, photos and more.