If you thought Captain Ahab was obsessed with whales, wait until you see Bill Monte fish for bluefin tuna.
"It ain't like catching a cod or a bluefish," Monte said. "It's crazy fishing."
A Peabody native and a Salem resident for 35 years, Monte is featured in a new series on the National Geographic Channel called "Wicked Tuna." The first episode airs Sunday, April 1, at 10 p.m.
For 10 episodes, along with four other fishermen from Beverly and Gloucester, all of whom fish out of Gloucester Harbor, Monte will be shown in search of lucrative bluefins.
The full cast of "Wicked Tuna" includes Tuna.com (Dave Carraro, Sandro Maniaci, Paul Hebert), Bounty Hunter (Donna Monte, Scott Ferriero, Bill Monte), Odysea (Ralph Wilkins, "Pirate" Kit Vallee), the Christina crew (Scott Prentiss, Kevin Leonowert, Blair Denman), and Hard Merchandise (Jason Muenzner, Dave Marciano).
Bluefin tuna, depending on the quality, fetches top dollar in the sushi market, especially in Japan, but "we are aware that bluefin are not endangered," said program executive Michael Cascio, and "we are aware the fish costs about $9 a pound."
According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates, the bluefin population in the western Atlantic is between 21 percent and 29 percent of what it was in 1970.
But Monte and some scientists believe the rod-and-reel fishing he and his co-stars practice gives bluefins a fighting chance.
"We consider rod and reel a very sustainable fishery," Monte said. "On the show, they depict it as one against one, man against fish."
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna sets quotas for each season, which are strictly enforced, Monte said.
"They told us up front that this is not about the controversy, but will deal with the dialogue," Capt. Dave Marciano, who is featured in the series, told the Times recently. "They found as fair a balance as I can ask for. I got the sense they would talk a lot about the city of Gloucester and its issues."
From his own observations, Monte has noticed that herring, which are bluefins' favorite food, have been making a comeback on Stellwagen Bank, a fishing ground located about 15 miles southeast of Gloucester to about six miles north of Provincetown.
This means the fish that he is catching are healthier, with a better color, and that translates into profits.
Monte, who owns the 35-foot Bounty Hunter, started fishing for bluefins in the late 1970s.
The fish have a top weight of 2,000 pounds and can hit speeds of up to 40 mph.
"The longest I ever fought one is six hours," he said. "They'll beat the hell out of you. These fish are real tough; people have no clue."
As much as he enjoys the challenge of catching bluefins, Monte said that to make money he has to get the fish to market while they're fresh.
"We try to keep enough ice on the boat for two fish. Size doesn't matter; it's the quality," he said. "These fish are shipped fresh in containers, airfreighted to Japan."
Even if they arrive in perfect condition, the market for tuna can be extremely fickle.
"If there aren't a lot of fish on the market, you can get a lot of money," he said. "If there's a lot of fish, then the range is unbelievable. It can be two bucks, six, 20, 30 bucks a pound."
The TV network contacted Monte last June and conducted interviews in Massachusetts before selecting five fishermen for the show.
During filming, Monte's wife, Donna, served as crew on the Bounty Hunter, tossing out chum and taking the wheel of the boat when he landed bluefins.
"She's pretty good at it," he said.
Monte has yet to see an episode or a trailer for the show. But he is planning to attend the premiere for "Wicked Tuna" at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston tomorrow.
Will Broaddus may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org