Deadliest Catch is on of Discovery Channel’s most thrilling shows. We’re addicted to watching the oh-so-dangerous lives of Alaskan Crab fishers. Much like the cast’s giant crab traps, the cameras on set don’t catch absolutely everything. Deadliest Catch is riddled with scandals and drama. Here’s a look behind the scenes – from mugshots to molestation rumors.
The Steel Traps Deadliest Catch Fishermen Use Are Gigantic
To catch a lot of crabs, you’re going to need a lot of traps, and the traps fisherman on The Deadliest Catch use aren’t your average rinky dink crab trap. These steel traps weigh about 700 pounds and seven by seven by three feet big. They’re baited with herring, squid, sardine and cod before they’re dropped 400 feet below the ocean’s surface.
The Crab-Fishing Business Is Expensive And Short-Lived
All the drama we see in Deadliest Catch realistically only occurs during four short weeks. Alaskan Crab fishing most lucrative in the fall and winter and fishing season lasts about four weeks, typical in October and again in January. Our favorite Deadliest Catch ships aren’t alone out there either. Every year about 250 crab fishing boats meet at Dutch Harbor, Alaska looking for King Crab. Each of these boats costs several million dollars to build and operate, so if fishing season isn’t fruitful, fishing companies are out a whole lot of cash.
Deadliest Catch Isn’t Even The Most Dangerous Kind Of Fishing
Discovery Channel may pretend that Deadliest Catch is the most dangerous type of crab fishing, but that’s not the case. Fishing for Red King Crab and Opilio Crab in the Bering Sea is way safer than you’d think. Because of this, Discovery Channel actually created a spin-off documenting the most dangerous type of crab fishing called Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove.
According to The Oregonian, fishing for Dungeness Crab is twice as deadly as what we see on Deadliest Catch. Two things factor in: Dungeness fishing boats don’t have to get a safety inspection from a Coast Guard and it operates on the “derby” system. This allows inexperienced captains on small boats to go out there and try to catch as much crab as they can. The odds are totally against them.
Deadliest Catch Totally Fakes It
Okay, no one said Discovery Channel never faked stuff for dramatic impact. Their entire special Eaten Alive was exaggerated so much it actually enraged viewers. Deadliest Catch is no different, though it may not be as obviously faked or exaggerated. In a 2008 episode, producers made it seem like the ships were in danger of sinking because of huge waves caused by a storm. This is definitely a real risk of crab fishing had the waves actually been there. The waves were filmed a month after the rest of the show was filmed. Of course, the Discovery Channel denies it, but The Hollywood Reporter caught them red-handed.
The Behind-The-Scenes Crew Were In A Drug Trafficking Ring
The stars of Deadliest Catch may have some issues with drugs, but apparently so does everyone else on set. In 2010, production manager Matthew Schneider was charged for selling and using cocaine. Schneider was caught when he sold $300 worth of cocaine to an undercover officer. To make matters worse, he used some in front of the officer as well, leading to the two charges. In addition to Schneider’s arrest, information he revealed to the undercover officer incriminated Deadliest Catch staff for a drug-trafficking ring which resulted in 18 arrests. We’re guessing Schneider never received an “Employee of the Month” award again, but he was a frontrunner for “Snitch of the Year.”
Sig Hansen Fights Molestation Scandal
Well this isn’t good for business. Earlier in 2017, Melissa Eckstrom, daughter of Deadliest Catch star Sig Hansen, filed a lawsuit against her father. She claimed that he molested her when she was just two years old. According to documents, the 28-year-old claimed the molestation occurred in 1990 after her parents split up.
“I have memories of my father hurting my genital region. Memories of being in a room alone with my father and crying out in pain,” she said. In her evidence, she used a disturbing childhood sketch as evidence, but is a sketch enough to prove guilt?
Melissa’s Evidence Was Disturbing
Melissa Eckstrom used a sketch she drew as a child to prove she was abused by her father. She allegedly created the sketch during a counseling session. The drawing depicts characters named “mommy” and “daddy” with a little girl that obviously depicts Eckstrom. She drew arrows pointing to specific parts of her body. One of those arrows went to her “potty pot” (or vagina). Eckstrom claimed that during the counseling session she told counselors “daddy puts his finger in my potty-pot.” She also claims she told both of her grandmothers that “daddy pottied on [her] leg.”
Sig Hansen Denies All Molestation Accusations
The Deadliest Catch ship captain denied all wrongdoing and claimed the lawsuit was filed because his daughter was lashing out. The pair had gotten into an argument when Hansen refused to pay Eckstrom’s $300,000 law school admission costs.
“‘This is nothing more than an old-fashioned shakedown. It’s a completely frivolous lawsuit full of lies that my ex-wife made up to take away my daughter, and still uses to try to extort money from me. It’s blackmail,” he said.
He also noted that he gave up his parental rights to Eckstrom when he separated from her mother, and that he thinks Eckstrom was “brainwashed and programmed” by her mother and other family members.
Sig Hansen Claims His Ex Wife Lied To Get His Daughter Taken Away
To further prove that he was not guilty of molesting his daughter, Sig Hansen tried to paint his ex-wife as a liar. According to the ship captain, Lisa Eckstrom, his former wife, lied 30 years ago to get his daughter taken away. There was a court trial over the allegations, and he was never charged. In fact, Sig passed a polygraph test.
“The fact is, decades ago I was exonerated of these allegations after a full court trial,” he said. Eckstrom maintains the fact that her father is guilty, saying she fears turning on the TV and seeing her dad’s face. She allegedly suffers from nightmares and watching her father in the media “exacerbates” her “pain and suffering.”
Sig Hansen Had A Heart Attack While Filming
Fishing for crab is ultra-stressful and it’s not unusual for a captain to suffer from a heart attack after dealing with such high stakes. In 2016, Deadliest Catch’s Sig Hansen suffered from a major heart attack while sitting in the captain’s chair filming the show’s 12th season.
“It was sharp and radiated from my chest up through my neck,” he said. “I wanted to take a bunch of Advil and Tums and make it go away and lie down.” But it wasn’t just indigestion. It was a real problem, and Hansen admitted that if he had gone to sleep he’d “probably be dead.”
Sig Hansen Almost Died, But Now Embraces Healthy Living
As soon as producers and crew convinced Sig he was probably having a heart attack, he docked at the nearest port and was airlifted to a hospital in Anchorage. Doctors told him he had a 50-50 chance of survival and that he’d suffered from stress-induced heart failure. It was then Sig realized he always put his job before his health.
“Now it’s time to be here for my family. I’m changing my life so I can be here for them,” he told People.
Hansen now uses a Fitbit, stopped eating unhealthy foods like potato chips and milkshakes and started swimming.
Captain Elliot Neese Allegedly Harasses His Exes
Apparently, Elliot Neese isn’t so smooth with the ladies. In fact, he’s a magnet for relationship trouble. According to TMZ, Neese’s baby mamma Valerie Gunderson filed a restraining order against the reality star in 2012. According to Gunderson’s petition, she feared for her personal safety “in the event that Elliot ‘snaps’ so to speak.” He allegedly got so angry at one point in time that he destroyed her TV and started burning her clothes in the fireplace. At the time Gunderson filed her petition, she claimed he had been harassing her for over a month.
Captain Elliot Neese Had An Undisclosed Drug Problems
In Deadliest Catch’s 11th season, Captain Elliot Neese stepped down and handed over his ship to first mate Jeff Folk. No one really knew why Neese would step down so abruptly, but tabloids swirled with rumors of drug addiction. Unfortunately for Neese, the rumors were true, at least in part, and the fisherman himself tweeted that he had entered a 60-day rehab program at Passages Malibu in May 2015. Neese never publicly stated what his undisclosed problems were that lead him to rehab, but he admitted he “had issues.” After rehab, Neese reported he had “a new outlook on things.”
Jake Harris Has Some Minor Drug Indiscretions
Like Elliot Neese, Jake Harris had similar drug issues, but it took him a lot longer to get the help he needed. In 2010, TMZ reported that Captain Derek Ray called the police to the boat because he though Harris was abusing drugs at sea (talk about getting sea sick). Police found paraphernalia on the boat, but not enough to charge Harris. Years later, he was missing from 2013’s Deadliest Catch promos and his brother told The Huffington Post, “Jake’s gotta take care of his own stuff right now. Deal with his demons.”
Jake Harris Is Totally, Definitely On Drugs
Deadliest Catch star Jake Harris already was having a rough go at things when he failed to show up in court to face drug charges. Harris had been facing two felony drug possession charges, but skipped his hearing in Phoenix causing the judge to issue a warrant for his arrest.
Harris, who left Deadliest Catch in 2012, was arrested after he stole his friend’s car and was found the next day with Xanax and crystal meth. Harris admitted the drugs were for personal use and was booked for 1 count of felony theft and 2 counts of felony drug possession.
Jake Harris Was Also Arrested For A DUI
Harris’ drug felonies and car theft arrest are hardly his first legal problems. In 2010, the then 24-year-old was arrested on a drunk driving hit and run. Harris was spotted erratically driving a BMW 3 Series. Police located his vehicle by aircraft and he was pulled over in the Seattle area. It was only after he was pulled over, failed a field sobriety test and refused to take a toxicological test that police discovered he was involved in a hit and run. Earlier in the evening, Harris had rear-ended another car. At the time of his arrest, Harris was struggling with grief following the death of his father.
Jake Harris Was Assaulted And Thrown Out Of A Car
After the death of his father, Jake Harris went through a dark time. It wasn’t just his DUI that was a problem. Apparently, Harris was also was horrifically beaten up and robbed. The Deadliest Catch star was tossed out of a moving car and left on the side of the road to die. According to TMZ the star got into an SUV with two or three other people after leaving a casino in Washington. He got into a fight and was thrown from the vehicle, but not before having his ID, wallet and cash stolen. He was put in the ICU for a head wound, but has since made a full recovery.
Sean Dwyer Put On Probation For Bad Crab Pots
Crab fishing is serious business and Alaska’s Fish and Game officials don’t joke around when it comes to serious fines. Earlier in 2016, Deadliest Catch star Sean Dwyer was hit with fines and two years’ probation for having bad crab traps. According to TMZ, Dwyer’s crab traps had an undersized escape mechanism. The escape hatch must be 18″ and held closed with biodegradable ties. That way, if the trap gets lost at sea, the crabs have a chance to escape. Dwyer’s traps were three inches two small, so he got slapped with a $1,500 fine and probation.
Freddy Maugatai Has Some Anger Issues
Harris isn’t the only Deadliest Catch star to have some trouble with the law. According to TMZ, who obtained the criminal complaint, Feleti “Freddy” Maugatai got into some major trouble after starting a fight against a husband and wife in a bathroom at the Grand Aleutian Hotel. Maugatai denied all wrongdoing and claimed he was defending himself after he shoved the wife and put the husband into a headlock. Police still chose to arrest him despite his cries of self-defense. Maugatai has a history of aggression and was fired from his ship for a similar incident.
Joshua Tel Warner Is A Bank Robber
Despite all of the cast’s legal problems, Joshua Tel Warner may be the biggest criminal of them all. CBS News reports that Warner was wanted for a series of bank robberies that took place from 2007 to 2009. Typically, if you’re running from the law, you don’t appear on TV, but Warner couldn’t stay away from a potential brush with fame. In 2010, Oregon law enforcement recognized him on an episode of Deadliest Catch and issued an arrest warrant. He pled guilty and got a reduced sentence from 30 to nine and half years. Needless to say, Warner won’t be on Deadliest Catch again any time soon.
Skeptical At First
When something new is presented to you, many times, you might question it first before diving right in. Bill Wichrowski admits that his crew excluding a few were quite skeptical about the whole thing.
“We were all kind of skeptical in the beginning about hooking up [with Discovery] except for a few,” said Wichrowski. “Sig [Hansen] jumped right on the bandwagon and Keith [Colburn] was not far behind. I could see how this thing was growing and the notoriety was growing and when the economy took a dip, I decided to get a hold of Discovery to see if they had room for me.”
More Boats Working Than Showed
We all know that TV shows don’t show us everything that goes on. They pick and choose what is shown on screen and we have to fill in the other pieces ourselves. While watching, the show only tails five or six boats but there are way more than this.
“Originally, there were upward of 300 boats, but they changed the format of the season from a derby to a quota system,” said Wichrowski. ” So now, you’ve gone from over 300 boats with five or six guys on each boat to… we’re down to under 100 boats. I think last season there might have been 78 boats that participated. Don’t quote me on that number, but it’s less than 100.”
What’s The Deal With The Camera Crew?
In this type of environment, you can imagine how tough it is trying to catch all these crabs. Now imagine having a large camera crew on the deck while you go through these tough conditions. It can only make matters a little more challenging.
“It’s hard enough on deck without a camera,” said Wichrowski. “You see our guys getting bounced around on deck and they have their full peripheral vision and they’re supposed to be trained professionals. There are two guys here shooting. There’s one on the deck, in addition to the four crew members there, and then there’s also a guy in the wheelhouse 100 percent of the time.”
Fans Were Devastated
It’s always tragic for fans when one of their favorite characters in a show gets killed off. That means no more character attachment and everything you liked about that person is gone and can only be seen in old episodes. Well, it’s even more tragic when a person dies in real life.
Phil Harris passed of a pulmonary embolism. A month earlier he had a stroke while offloading crab but appeared to be recovering well before his sudden death. “Phil was a devoted father and a loyal friend to all who knew him,” the Discovery network said.
Son Takes It Hard
Losing a parent can be hard to anyone. And if you’re already having struggles in life, the loss of a parent can often time amplify those struggles. We already mentioned earlier how he Jake Harris struggled with drugs but the crew members were starting to get fed up with it too.
One crew member, Derrick Ray, accused Harris of smoking marijuana on board the Cornelia Marie. He even went to the next step and tried to make him take a drug test. Harris promptly refused but can you blame crew member Ray for accusing him after his history?
It Was Written
Coping with your parent’s death can be different with anybody. There is no telling how an individual will act and that goes for anybody. We just glazed over how Jake took the loss of his father but let’s touch on it more and also throw in his brother, Josh Harris.
Three years after their father passed, the two brothers penned a book called Captain Phil Harris. The book was filled with all types of things but what stood out was that they wrote their father would blow $80,000 on cocaine and vodka in just three weeks as a young fisherman.
Like we said, it’s always a lot to take in when a character on a show dies but this show had two people pass away in real life. The first one could be argued it was related to the conditions these guys are put through trying to catch crab for television. The death of Justin Tennison was more of an unfortunate event.
Tennison was found dead in a Homer, Alaska, hotel room. There were marijuana and alcohol at the scene but the autopsy revealed that he died of sleep apnea complications. At only 33, he died fairly young.
It Happens In Threes
It’s crazy how life works. They say death comes in threes and many times that is true if you pay attention to patterns. First Harris, then Tennison and finally it was Tony Lara. The sad part is, it is tough to say if working on this show contributed in any way (besides the stroke Harris had while unloading crabs).
Tony Lara, died at 50 just five years after Harris passed away. His cause of death was a heart attack. It happened at his home in South Dakota. After Harris was gone, Lara became the ship’s captain.
The Crew Takes A Loss Too
If you thought just the people in front of the camera were involved in tragedies and scandals, the members behind the lenses also were struck by tragedies. This one specifically involved Joe McMahon, the former associate producer. His life was taken from him, unlike the others, by homicide.
While at his home in East Pasadena, California, on July 24, 2015, McMahon was shot dead. At the ripe age of 25, his life was taken from him. Just one day later, a suspect committed suicide. It’s safe to say that suspect was the killer.
Who’s All Up?
Working in these types of conditions can be challenging for sure. There are many variables involved that make it interesting, to say the least. One of these variables is sleeping schedule on the boat. Does it make a difference?
“Over the years I’ve had guys that are just there 100 percent of the time and I’ve had some that weren’t,” said Wichrowski. “Everybody is different and everybody has a different level of how seriously they do it. It varies. A lot of boats get a lot of airtime and part of it is material and part of it is the drive of the camera guy. The last few seasons we’ve had great guys.”
How Did They Eat
There is a common question that many fans might have had and that question is, did Discovery Channel pay the crew for rent and the food they ate? It would make sense if they did but we found out the answer to it.
“They basically participate with us,” said Wichrowski. “They eat with us, they sleep with us. Many of them have flexibility to where they can go down and make themselves something quick in between when our guys do. If you watch the show, especially on my boat, eating is of a high priority, though it comes few and far between.
Coast Guard On Standby
The Coast Guard was involved with the series if you hadn’t noticed. Discovery would have someone with the Coast Guard and when something would go down with them, the captains would listen on the radio. Were they told to do that?
“It depends. If it’s a dangerous situation with another boat, we’re always monitoring to see if we can give some assistance,” said Wichrowski. We also want to know if there’s anyone around here, because you’re going to want them to look out for you. So 90 percent of the time, we’re already aware of it.”
Do Others Realize The Danger?
Do others actually understand the threat they are putting their lives in when participating in this job? Your life is at risk and you don’t even receive as much pay as everyone else.
“You would think with the realism of the show that people would realize this is a job that 90 percent of guys fail at,” said Wichrowski. “But I had one guy from down South that bothered me for two years for a job, said he was an ex-Marine, said he was an ex-commercial fisherman in the Gulf, and both things should have been perfect intros to being a good deckhand.”
Making It A Career
Piggybacking off the last slide, after you digest how dangerous this career is, you still have to be willing to do something else that you may not have signed up for initially. To get in this field, one must be willing to fish for other sea creatures like cod.
“You want someone who wants to have it as a career,” said Wichrowski “What’s funny is the best guys are the ones that are really on their last legs; guys that don’t have a family business to go back to. If a guy is engaged to be married, he’s the worst one to get, because he’s going to be sad and he’s going to be lonely from leaving his girl at home.”
Worse Than What It Looks
If you thought it looked bad already, you have no clue how much worse it could get out there. This is the perfect example of being on the outside looking in. The dangers they show on TV are only surface level.
“They’re like, ‘Is it as bad as it looks?’ and I tell them, ‘No, it’s worse.’,” said Wichrowski. “You can’t show cold on TV. It looks cold, but you can’t feel how cold that is. You don’t see the 30 hours where all we did was haul pots. Discovery shows really bad pots and really good pots, but they don’t show the middle-of-the-road stuff, because who cares about average?”
How Much Money Do They Really Make?
One of the questions that were asked of Wichrowski was how much money does crab fishing really bring you in once you account for everything like the gas and the price of boats. His answer was interesting.
“I’ll put it this way: I started 35 or 37 years ago or whatever it was, and I made more money on the deck than I do in the wheelhouse now,” he said. “The government is coming in. I think 27 percent of it is taxes and fees off the top. The cost of fuel has gone up astronomically, the cost of insurance is through the roof.”
Working With A Son
For any fathers out there that have had the chance to work with their son, what is it like? Does he annoy you or is he a huge help? Wichrowski talks about his experience working with his son on the show.
“To be honest, he was a pain to deal with; he would back-talk and smart-mouth and I was doing everything I could to elevate him through the ranks as any father would and he was fighting me about it,” he said. “At some point last season, I expressed to him that I was tired of arguing with him about teaching him what I’ve learned over 37 years in a short period of time.”
Would He Ever Make Captain?
Now that we know that their relationship was a bit rocky, does that mean he doesn’t have the highest praise for his son? Does Wichrowski think his son can fill his shoes and be a captain one day?
“You know, that’s a big step,” he said. “Up in Alaska, we’re trying to work on the boat so he can gain more of a mechanical background. You see these young kids and for some reason, all of a sudden, someone says, ‘Okay, you’re the captain’ and well, they’re not. You have people’s lives at stake.”
Is A Replacement Possible?
The question was if Wichrowski thinks the show will go on for longer than his crew does. He seems to think dating back to Phil Harris, that they are sort of irreplaceable and not everyone can do it.
“Well, I don’t think just any group of guys can make this happen, Phil [Harris] was one of the original guys and we lost Phil and Phil’s still as much a part of the show as some of the guys on the show,” he said. “Sig’s been on for 10 years or since conception. You lose Sig, you lose Time Bandit and you’re not going to keep this fan base.”
How They Felt About A Spinoff
Not everyone thinks a spinoff could work. Or maybe they just don’t want it to work. Who really knows, all we know is how Wichrowski felt about the subject of a spinoff when asked about it.
“Those are a dime a dozen,” Wichrowski said. “I’ve actually been talking to Discovery about a travel show to seaports around the world. It’s a little bit like Anthony Bourdain. His vocabulary is pretty tough to compete with, but it’s kind of the same thing. Travel around and whether it’s a sailing port or a sport fishing port or a yachting port—that’d be the show that I’d like to do.” Well, he was way off.