By Gail McCarthy
---- — More “monstah” fish tales will hit television screens across the country Sunday night when the Gloucester-based reality series “Wicked Tuna” launches its second season, following six fishing vessels’ fight to bring back the largest bluefin.
“Wicked Tuna,” which critics called “wicked authentic,” follows the spirited fishermen from Gloucester as they crisscross the frigid North Atlantic.
The National Geographic Channel series hooked viewers around the globe its first season, going into 440 million homes in 171 countries and in 38 languages.
The series depicts the lucrative nature of the bluefin tuna business and the fierce rivalry among the fishermen, some whose livelihood depends on their success at sea. In an avocation as old as the ancient disciples, the cameras capture the battle of man versus fish as they fight to reel in the giant tuna, some of which can weigh in at more than 1,000 pounds and sell on the Japanese sushi market for as much as $20,000.
The sea hunters capture their prey the old-fashioned way — with rod and reel or harpoon, often ending in almost hand-to-hand combat with the fish. The cameras catch both the thrill of the hunt and the despair when a fish worth thousands of dollars swims away.
Dave Carraro, captain of the FV-Tuna.com, said the second season promises a lot more action. Both he and Capt. Dave Marciano of Hard Merchandise have traveled from coast to coast as the National Geographic Channel promotes the new season. They attended the Television Critics Association event in Los Angeles last week and in New York City on Wednesday, where their images are illuminated on a gigantic billboard in Times Square.
“In the 10 episodes last year, 24 fish went for sale and for season two there are 55 fish that get pulled and another 40 fish that get lost or they’re short,” said Carraro, who led the fleet in catches and revenue last season. “Tuna fishing is a tough business, and you have to remain competitive — I’ll do whatever it takes to stay on top.”
The premiere episode of the second season, “Back in the Hunt,” shows Carraro arriving at his first fishing spot of the season. Soon after, 25-year-old Capt. Tyler McLaughlin of the fishing vessel Pin Wheel and his two hotshot mates intrude on Carraro’s spot with the expressed intent of catching more fish than Carraro, thus sparking a new rivalry that intensifies with Carraro vowing to crush his new competitor.
Although from Rye, N.H., McLaughlin said he is no stranger to Gloucester. He worked as a mate for a few years out of the nation’s oldest seaport, although he did not crew on local boats. He docked the Pin Wheel at Three Lanterns in town during the past tuna season.
“I may not be from Gloucester, but that doesn’t mean I can’t show these guys a thing or two about catching fish,” said the youngest of the reality cast.
In an interview this week, Carraro spoke about his new adversary.
“Tyler is giving us a run for the money,” he said. “He is an accomplished fisherman, and he’s fished with some of the best people around on the East Coast, and he’s taken that knowledge and he’s applying it — and I can’t say that for all fishermen.”
Two other local captains — Marciano, and Bill Monte, captain of the Bounty Hunter — face even more pressure to haul in the giant fish after a disappointing season last year.
“If I don’t catch a fish, I don’t have money to provide for my family,” Marciano said. “Money doesn’t just fall from the sky — it comes out of the sea.”
Marciano faced another setback just a few weeks ago when he received a late night call from the Coast Guard — he was watching the reality television show “Moonshiners” — about trouble with his boat. He soon discovered that the Hard Merchandise sank at the dock in Gloucester’s Inner Harbor when a fitting broke.
NatGeo’s Chris Albert, senior vice president of communications, credits the reality cast for the show’s success.
“I think what makes this show work is the authenticity of the guys. They are real guys doing a real job that many have done for years and years. There is the camaraderie and the competition,” Albert said. “In addition to the captains of all the boats, there is another character in the show and it’s Gloucester — and I think that played a key role.”
He said the show is doing fantastic in Italy, Spain and United Kingdom, as well as many other markets.
“All the regions are excited about the second season,” he said. “The viewers represent a great variety of people and its popularity seems to cross all the cultural barriers. It’s one of the most highly trafficked pages on the NatGeo Channel website.”
Although the tuna season has come to a close in New England waters, McLaughlin is fishing in southern waters where there was still some quota left to fill.
“I’m still chasing tuna. I’m still going for it hard, and I got 15 in about a week,” he said in a telephone interview this week. “Rye is my home port but I travel the whole coast.”
The young fisherman, who turned 25 on Dec. 21, graduated from Nichols College, where he majored in management.
“There’s not many good jobs out there. There are jobs in the technical fields and in computers, but that’s not what I’m trying do to. I’m hands-on and I like being my own boss,” he said. However, he admitted that in the show he had some trouble managing his crew because they are his friends.
His entry in the reality show was serendipitous. He was offloading in Maine over the summer when the casting staff took notice.
“They saw me unloading tuna and they were there looking to cast these other boats, then here I am coming in with tuna,” he related. The casting crew talked to him and about a week later he received a voice mail telling him he was selected. In fact, he was the only new boat selected for the second season.
“I had a great experience with the show. In the beginning, I was having a tough time so we were struggling financially. I was in a ‘go hard, fish hard’ mode and I wasn’t as fun-loving and as much myself because it was a tough start. When the (camera crew) got on the boat, we had a couple of good trips. Then I relaxed a bit,” he said.
McLaughlin will chase the bluefin until Jan. 31, after which he plans to fish for yellowfin and big eye tuna.
Paul Hebert, one of the show’s most colorful characters, knows the young fisherman.
“He fishes with all the guys that my brother Bruce and I showed how to fish. He’s a good fisherman, and he’s hungry. When I was his age, I was full of piss and vinegar too. It’s an overwhelming exciting fishery and when you do catch one, you’re hooked. He has the passion for the fishery. He’s going all out and he’s a hardworking kid.
“I could only dream to be his age right now,” said the 48-year-old Hebert. “Tyler will draw the young crowd in. He will add something.”
Hebert also is known for his colorful language. One of those expressions is “googans,” who he describes as the inexperienced guys who go out on weekends fishing, such as lawyers and doctors.
As the season unfolds in its 14 episodes, tensions are further exacerbated when the Pin Wheel crew mess with “the biggest hothead in the fleet, Capt. Ralph Wilkins of the Odysea,” according to a press release. “Their rivalry spills over onto the docks. And this season, cameras follow Capt. Kevin Leonowert of the Christina as he returns to his roots as a harpoon fisherman, a high-octane chase that requires speed, smarts and precision.”
The creators of “Wicked Tuna” wanted to highlight issues surrounding the fate of the bluefin tuna.
“While these small-town fishermen struggle to stay afloat financially, today’s bluefin tuna stocks are only one-quarter of what they were in 1950,” according to a NatGeo press release. “As the scientific community debates how best to preserve the species, American fishermen, including the ‘Wicked Tuna’ captains, continue to adhere to U.S. regulations that determine size limits and quotas for the season.”
To raise awareness, National Geographic Channel aired public service announcements in every episode of the first season. In season two, the campaign was expanded to call for the preservation of the oceans in general, and supporting the National Geographic Society’s Ocean Initiative. The website will expand its coverage to include the state of the oceans. Viewers are encouraged to add their voices to the conversation via the website at www.natgeotv.com/wickedtuna, which also features articles, links and message boards devoted to the tuna and oceans.
If the reality show makes the grade for a third series of episodes, the next tuna season opens on June 1, and runs roughly six moths, until the quota of roughly 450 metric tons is met.
“Wicked Tuna” is produced for National Geographic Channel by Pilgrim Studios. For more information, visit www.natgeotv.com/wickedtuna or www.ngcpr.com.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3445, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who's Who on 'Wicked Tuna' The second season of "Wicked Tuna" kicks off Sunday, Jan. 13, at 9 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel. The reality cast of the Gloucester-based show are: Capt. Dave Carraro and Sandro Maniaci of the fishing vessel FV-Tuna.com. Capt. Bill Monte and his wife Donna Monte, and Scott Ferriero of the Bounty Hunter. Capt. Dave Marciano and Jason Muenzner of Hard Merchandise. Capt. Ralph "Lone Wolf" Wilkins on the Odysea. Capt. Kevin Leonowert, Scott Prentiss, Greg Chorebanian and Blair Denman on the Christina. Capt. Tyler McLaughlin, Adam Moser, and Alex Whitney of the Pin Wheel Paul Hebert of Gloucester began season one on FV-Tuna.com and was last seen working on Bounty Hunter.