‘Deadliest Catch’ stars hope to use their fame to promote, benefit Alaska’s fishing industry

 The coverage of the Deadliest Catch skippers at Global Food Alaska continues.  This article comes from Homernews.com and was written by Christy Fry who writes a regular column called Seawatch. 

In the complicated world of fisheries policy in Alaska, there is often a cacophony of opinions and ideas, and it can be hard to be heard above the din unless you have something that makes you stand out, such as fame. And right now it’s hard to find anyone with opinions on the issues who are more famous than the stars of the Discovery Channel’s reality TV series, “Deadliest Catch.”
The crews from the Bering Sea crab boats featured on the show came to the Kenai Peninsula last week to participate in a trade show in Soldotna sponsored by Global Foods and the Kenai Wild salmon branding association. While there they posed for pictures, signed “Kings of Crab” T-shirts until their wrists were sore, and talked to anyone who would listen about some of the changes they would like to see take place in Alaska fisheries policy.Larry Hendricks, a crab fisherman who appeared in the first five episodes and now works behind the cameras as a consultant, said that they want to take advantage of the show’s popularity.”We never would have dreamed that we’d get the notoriety that we did,” Hendricks said, “and now we want to use that notoriety to promote and benefit the Alaska fishing industry. We feel that there are a lot of guys out there on other boats that are not getting promoted, that we feel are all part of the ‘Kings of Crab,’ they’re all part of the organization that’s a unique and very limited breed world-wide.Just what that means is an idea that is still taking shape, but Hendricks sees some immediate changes that need to take place.There has been an edict from the American public and the environmental community that we have a sustainable yield and we show environmental responsibility,” Hendricks said. “Well, naturally, under this new system we’re stewards of our own grounds.”

With that edict, Hendricks said, comes the need for education. “We want to promote that we are following this as Americans, but we’re at sort of a disadvantage with other countries like Russia. Russian king crab gets shipped over here but they don’t have any oversight in their fishery, and then they’re marketing it as Alaskan king crab, yet it was caught in Russia.”

The brood stock that created the Russian fishery was transported from the Bering Sea stocks under Stalin.

Hendricks would like to see a certification program for all Alaska seafood, much like the one for Angus beef. “We would like to see ‘certified Alaskan’ fish products,” he said.

That is one area where he sees the popularity of the show coming into play. “For promotional power, we want to promote the whole Alaskan seafood industry. We have some well-managed resources now, and we want to make sure the American public is aware of what we’re doing to maintain the quality protein resources for future generations.”

Further developing domestic markets and encouraging Americans to buy all types of Alaskan seafood products is a key to it all, Hendricks said, as well as teaching them to look at quality rather than focusing only on price.

“We’re producing it as inexpensively as we can,” he said, “but we have so much government regulation coming down on us.”

Like most crab fishermen who received fishing quota as a result of rationalization, Hendricks said he supports the IFQ program, and that he thinks processor quotas were necessary to save the infrastructure built up over many years, although he would like to see the 90/10 split, where 90 percent of the crab must be sold to established processors and 10 percent can go to the open market, changed to something more like a 50/50 split.

“However, we feel that if we can promote enough domestic seafood sales under the existing system, that change will come,” he said.

Hendricks said he thinks the price paid to fishermen for crab will eventually climb and stabilize under the IFQ system like it has for halibut, especially if processors can be encouraged to produce value-added products and fishermen can create partnerships with processors and become more involved in the marketing.

According to Hendricks, fishermen should be prepared to get a piece of the action of such developments as offshore aquaculture, because otherwise they will be left out in the cold.

“If fishermen can get (a site) and amortize the cost of their boats over a longer period of time, then they can lick farmed fish. But it would be a wild, ocean grown farmed fish.”

Hendricks’ afternoon at the trade show illustrates his passion for the industry, and once he started talking to the crowd about the fisheries issues, the TV show that drew the crowd was rarely mentioned.

“We’re crab fishermen first,” he said. “The show happens to be secondary. We’re more interested in our livelihood and our future and what we’re doing for generations to come.”

Cristy Fry has commercial fished in Homer since 1978. She also designs and builds gear for the industry. She currently longlines for halibut and gillnets salmon in upper Cook Inlet aboard the F/V Realist. She can be reached at cristy-fry@excite.com.

Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble Especially if you are a star of one of the most popular shows on television, and, as happened last month, 160,000 NASCAR fans are screaming your name, as excited by your presence as they are by that of auto racing’s biggest name, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. But the Bering Sea crab fishermen who make up the cast of the reality TV series “Deadliest Catch” are doing a pretty good job of not letting it go to their heads. In its third season, the numbers surrounding the show, which airs on the Discovery Channel, are impressive: watched by 25 million viewers per week in 126 nations, surpassing “American Idol” in recent weeks as the most-watched show in its time slot on television. Larry Hendricks, a crab fisherman who appeared in the first five episodes and now works behind the scenes as a consultant for the show, is trying to understand the dynamics behind the popularity. “The ‘Deadliest Catch’ has taken off in terms of popularity to the point where we’ve created a cult amongst the working people of the world that relate to us,” he said. “We’re not any different than the rest of the world, we put our pants on the same way, and to us it just astonishes us because people look at us a some type of a mega-star, and we’re just saying, ‘wow, we’re not anywhere near that!'” “It’s very interesting to us that what we do for a living, there are so many people out there that are fascinated by it,” he said. Hendricks said that for now, they can often go out in public individually and remain anonymous, but put any combination of two or more together and it creates a commotion where ever they go with fans seeking autographs and photos. The shows’ origins go back to a one-hour documentary produced by Thom Beers, owner of Original Productions. Beers went to the Bering Sea aboard the Fierce Allegiance, skippered by Rick Mezich, to record the perils and thrills of America’s most dangerous occupation. That was followed by a three-part documentary called “Deadliest Season.” “That evidently set all kinds of records as far as viewing attendance,” Hendricks explained, “and really brought on the start of what we now know as the ‘Deadliest Catch.'” This season the show features a number of Homer men, including brothers Jonathan, Andy, and Neil Hillstrand, who own the Time Bandit, Russell Newberry, and Richard Gregoire. Ian Pitzman, skipper of the Jennifer A, also makes an appearance when his boat is trapped in the ice outside St. Paul harbor in the Pribilof Islands. One of the youngest members of show, Josh Harris, crews on the Kodiak-based Cornelia Marie with his brother, Jake and his dad, Phil. Josh said that he is as baffled as everyone else by the popularity of the show. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would have made such a great TV show,” he said. “But people are watching it, and they’re enjoying it, which is pretty cool. But we’re just average people in the world, just trying to make it.” Harris said that the rock-star treatment they receive as a result of the show’s popularity has probably changed him, but he hasn’t really figured out how yet. However, he remains focused on the good things that can happen as a result of the notoriety. For example, a young girl with terminal cancer had plans to fly up and meet them through the Make A Wish Foundation. Unfortunately, she died the day before she was scheduled to travel, but Harris sees it as an illustration of the potential to do good things. “To be able to help somebody, especially kids, to be their heroes in a sense, that’s pretty cool to be in that position. We try to give back as much as we possibly can.” Harris also said that they stress to young people the importance of staying in school. “We tell them, ‘you need to get an education, or else you’ll be doing something like this to make good money.'”

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One Response to ‘Deadliest Catch’ stars hope to use their fame to promote, benefit Alaska’s fishing industry

  1. Since I started watching this show I never miss an episode,Now I understand what kind of hell these guys go through ,someday I would love to go crab fishing myself,I have A lot of respect for these guys.

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