Wild Bill Says It's All Lollipops and Rainbows Crab Fishing in the Bering Sea. (Fact Check: No, He Did Not.)
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The pandemic left no corner of the world untouched — and that includes the top of the globe. On the 17th season of Deadliest Catch, the hard-living captains and crew members of the Alaskan crab fishing fleet not only faced giant waves on the Bering Sea but also, like the rest of us, microscopic particles with the potential to kill.
We caught up with 40-year crab fishing veteran Captain Wild Bill from the safe and sound confines of his home to find out what it was like to do such hazardous work in the middle of a global health crisis, and what to expect this new season.
After spending so much time on the Bering Sea, do you ever wake up at home and forget you’re not on a boat in the middle of deadly waters?
Yes, but I have to say things are a lot more comfortable in my home than on the boat. It's almost like a freaky realization that you're not on the boat, it's like this big sigh of relief to realize you’re in your house.
What’s the timeframe of crab season like?
There are different seasons for different species, but I always refer to it as God's cruel joke to make the crab biologically correct to harvest in the winter. We pretty much work from September until March.
How were things different for you doing this work in the middle of the pandemic?
It was different in many ways. When we got up there to Dutch Harbor, we had a 10-day quarantine. We couldn't leave the boat for 10 days, which was pretty difficult because you're not really getting anything done. Usually, when you get there, you're excited to get things rolling because there's never enough time. And the camera guys on a couple of boats actually had outbreaks of the virus. On the Northwestern, they had an entire boatload that got it. It happened in the middle of the season somehow. There were a lot fewer boats fishing because people decided not to come up, and they just leased out their crab quota. On top of all that, the crab were way farther north than they have ever been for me. So instead of fishing maybe to 250 miles from Dutch Harbor, there were guys going 600 miles — close to the top of the globe.
What were some of the unexpected challenges of those kinds of conditions?
There was a lot more dead loss. [Crabs that die while in the holding tank before the ship can unload.] There was a lot more travel time and delays offloading that contributed to that.
Every season, we get to see a new crop of greenhorns, or rookies. Does that hiring process get easier over time? Are you getting better at spotting who will be great and who isn’t up for it?
It gets more difficult every year. The show makes it difficult to hire new guys because everybody sees what's portrayed on TV, which is all the high points and low points. But there are countless days in between where it's just a monotonous grind. All you do is work, work, work, and it's not that glamorous. And a lot of these guys that come up think it's going to be a walk in the park. They're going to become millionaires overnight with no knowledge of the fishery. And then they get there. They're cold, wet, beat up, banged up. They're constantly getting chewed out because they don't know what they're doing.
Is there anything a potential greenhorn can do at home to prepare themselves for work on a crab fishing vessel?
Go find a butcher shop and sit in the freezer for about four days and have somebody come in about every 45 minutes and throw a bucket of cold water in your face. And don't get any sleep.
You’ve been on this show for several seasons now. How has life as a TV personality changed for you over the years?
In the beginning, a lot of us used to watch the show and call the producers to complain and raise hell if we didn't get airtime or didn’t like how they edited it. But I don’t really watch anymore, I just look at social media and see how fans are reacting. Am I being tough, acting like an ass? The fans will let you know.
Who is the most Hollywood of the captains?
Well, Sig definitely likes to have his face upfront!
Deadliest Catch airs Tuesdays at 8 PM on Discovery and is streaming now on discovery+