Deadliest Catch has been a mainstay of the Discovery Channel for over ten years. It shows the working conditions of crabbers in the North Pacific who fish for king crab and snow crab out of ports like Dutch Harbor and St. Paul. Now the show is coming to the Pacific Northwest. Discovery Channel is now launching a spinoff titled Deadliest Catch – Dungeon Cove. It’s based in Newport, Oregon and it will follow the commercial dungeness crab fishery (even though there is no Dungeon Cove).
There has been discussion in the past few years or so about just how deadly is the “Deadliest Catch,” and perhaps this debate was the reasoning behind this spinoff. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), in a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report published just in June 2016, the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island crab fleet has seen significant improvements in health and safety since the 1990s. This is certainly a result of mandatory U.S. Coast Guard safety inspections, and also a rationalization of the quota within the fleet (instead of a derby style fishery).
The Northwest dungeness commercial- crab fishery, however, is still seeing high rates of injury and death compared to other fisheries in the United States. The Northwest coast is particularly rough, and dungeness crab are commercially fished in the winter (similar to Alaska commercial crab seasons) when the weather is at its worst. Crabbers are constantly exposed to rough conditions. The nature of crabbing presents many opportunities for a crabber to be hit by a large steel pot, be pulled overboard, or make a mistake due to fatigue. The style of the dungeness fishery is a “derby style” – fishermen have access to as many crab as they can catch in as quick of time as they can catch the critters. Derby fishing has often been attributed to high rates of injuries and deaths in other fisheries, and has led to stricter regulations, with decreases in injuries and deaths as a direct result.
This past crabbing season, of which Discovery Channel was filming, was not without tragedy and difficulties. The opening of the fishery was delayed due to concerns around toxic levels of domoic acid in the crabs themselves. Two boats sank near Coos Bay – the F/V Eagle III and the F/V Sara Jo. Sadly, with a dramatic irony on par with a Greek tragedy, the F/V Sara Jo sank when she was making her way out to retrieve the F/V Eagle III’s pots that had been left in the water, in order to give money to the families of those that had lost their lives the week prior.
These boats were not a part of the Dungeon Cove cast, but their stories may make it on to the show regardless through Mayday calls over the VHF and SSB radios, potentially interviews with the Coast Guard, and inevitably the cast being familiar with the deceased, given the small town nature of the fishing industry.
If you’re familiar with the Newport Fleet, the captains and vessels will allegedly be Jim Burns of the F/V Galway out of Coos Bay, Oregon and a Newport, Oregon fleet made up of John Law of the F/V Lad Law, Gary Ripka of the F/V Redeemer and the F/V Western Breeze, and Mike Retherford of the R/V Excalibur and the F/V Winona J, as well as the F/V Western Hunter serving as a chaser vessel for all of the shots of the vessels on the water. The show will also follow the lives of the families on land, and I’m sure will follow the Coast Guard’s involvement as well.
For Oregonians, you will probably get a kick out of seeing some familiar places and possibly even faces. For the rest of the Deadliest Catch fan base, I’m sure that the Dungeon Cove will live up to the original Deadliest Catch experience of watching deckhands fight off driving wind and icy rain while we watch, snuggled under a blanket, safe at home.