Season 3 of National Geographic Channel’s highest-rated series, Wicked Tuna, debuts Sunday.
They don’t seem like television stars.
Seven tired, salty fisherman slunk down at a table, debating the next day’s weather in thick Boston accents.
“Early, 2 a.m. could be best to head out to the boat. But – Ah!” Captain Paul Hebert yells, accidentally snapping a photo with his iPhone, flash beaming bright. “I just learned to use this thing. All I want is the weather.”
The fishermen never expected to be in the spotlight, and it’s obvious by their disheveled appearance and harsh language – not the picture of Hollywood glamour. But the rough-handed, sunburned men are the stars of National Geographic Channel’s highly-rated series, Wicked Tuna.
The show, which follows commercial fishermen as they fish for lucrative bluefin tuna, has captured the attention of fishermen and reality-TV fans across the nation. The show is back for a third season Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT and there’s a lot at stake.
The fishermen can net $1,000 to $24,000 for just one fish, and with millions watching globally, no one can forget the competition. Last season, Captain Tyler McLaughlin squeaked by Captain Dave Carraro of the FV-Tuna.Com for the title. Paul Hebert, who was fired from the crew of FV-Tuna.com with just weeks left in the season, is back with his own boat, and the captains say this season will be the most competitive yet.
“You try to be happy for the other guy. But it’s human instinct, or maybe it’s just jealousy,” Captain Dave Marciano says.
“That fish is worth potentially $10,000 so for me, it’s way more important to catch than it is for Paul,” Marciano says, motioning to Captain Hebert, who is still preoccupied trying to figure out how to check the fishing conditions on his iPhone.
He might not be a gadget-master, but on board his boat, Wicked Pissah! — a New England term for awesome — Hebert is king.
From slicing chum – chopped fish to throw overboard – to navigating the waters, Hebert could do it with his eyes closed. That’s until he hooks a tuna; then the pressure is on.
Tuna fishing is a dangerous job. On a good day, it means fighting with a 800-plus pound bluefin, hooking it and reeling it into the boat, all while staying on board. Sometimes, that’s a 10-hour battle, Marciano says.
“But to me, crossing the street in Washington, D.C., is far more dangerous than being out on the boat,” Marciano says. “All of us have a lot of experience. None of us are doing this in a vacuum.”
But when the fisherman are off the boat, people from all over the world come to see them. A few of the fisherman are able to make extra money by taking fans out on their boats on charter trips.
Each markets their boat with an online store, selling shirts, hats and sweatpants branded with the boat names.
Still, the bulk of their income comes from the tuna they catch and sell during fishing season.
“This summer we went seven, eight, nine days without catching a fish,” Captain Dave Carraro says. “You can go two or three weeks without a fish and then the last day you can make a full season worth of money. We were fishing twice as hard as everyone else.”
When the men are out on the sea, the fame of Wicked Tuna doesn’t matter.
“We fish this hard whether they are filming the show or not,” Carraro said. “It’s what we love to do. It’s who we are. We are going to fish no matter what.”