National Geographic Channel’s “Wicked Tuna” takes reality TV by storm and turns the spotlight on Gloucester’s key industry.
By Jill Diver
On May 12, Bass Pro Shops in Foxborough was the site of a viewing party for the Season 2 finale of National Geographic Channel’s “Wicked Tuna.” It was a Who’s Who of the show attended by cast members including Captain Dave Marciano, in his blue Hawaiian fish shirt, and the youngest, Captain Tyler McLaughlin, rocking his signature sideways hat with the colors of his boat, Pinwheel.
Thanks to the hit reality series, which is based out of Gloucester, names like Hard Merchandise, Bounty Hunter, and FV-Tuna.com have become household names. With the series now in its third season, which started filming June 1, it’s safe to say that viewers are, well, hooked. The first season attracted viewers around the globe, finding its way into 440 million homes in 171 countries and 38 languages.
Of all the fishermen, McLaughlin, 25, came out on top of the leaderboard, catching 16 tuna for a combined weight of 6,359 pounds, adding up to a grand total of $100,861. With this feat, McLaughlin should feel he has less to prove to the other seasoned captains, but he is still determined to outshine them all. It is his competitive, confident, and sometimes cocky spirit—along with some healthy competition from the other captains—that has brought him success.
“Everyone says my dad bought my boat and this and that and the other thing,” he says. “What they don’t know is that my dad said, ‘You graduate college, and I’ll co-sign the bank loan,’ and then the bank loan is on me. I fish hard, I go every day, and I stay out until we get [a tuna].”
It seems that cockiness is necessary in order to survive the fierce competition on the ocean. “The guys on the show are not the best fishermen out there,” he says. “If you pull my permit number for bluefin tuna the last three years, I’ve been in the top three percent. This year, I had 76 bluefin on rod and reel. [But] I didn’t have cameras every time I was fishing.”
On the show, these skilled fishermen have 10 weeks to hook as many fish as they can, in addition to surviving the winter seasons and taking care of their families. One tuna can bring in up to $20,000, and the giant bluefin tuna, which can weigh upwards of 1,500 pounds and exceed 10 feet in length, adds to the excitement of catching a “monstah.” Although most usually pull in fish between 400 and 800 pounds, the potential of catching much larger ones only adds to the competitive nature of the business. A day with no fish can be an agonizing loss; if a fishing vessel returns to shore empty, the captain faces a loss of thousands of dollars in fuel and provisions.
The third season of “Wicked Tuna” may hold new surprises for viewers and fishermen alike. Dave Marciano, captain of Hard Merchandise, is taking to the seas in a newly outfitted boat. “Hard Merchandise sank at the dock in December 2012. It is completely rebuilt with a new engine, new wiring, and all new electronics. It was a nightmare to get to where I am now,” he says.
Prior to the renovation, the boat’s onboard bathroom facility was a bucket that got dumped over the edge after it was used. Marciano chuckles before he mentions all the “upgrades” he made to the “Hard Merch.” “It even has a bathroom,” he says. “We spared no expense; we went all out.” He explains that with the charter end of his business exploding, a revamp was necessary.
Marciano is the father of three children. His first boat, named after his only two children at the time—the Angelica Joseph, sank January 13, 2003, coming home from fishing. Marciano will have his son Joseph—who he claims is his good luck charm—on the boat with him after he graduates from Beverly High this June and before starting college in the fall.
Despite “Wicked Tuna” being a reality show, each of the captains is a character on it. And while the lines and scenarios are not scripted—a sentiment shared by each of the captains—Marciano’s “character” is one with whom he thinks most of his viewers can identify.
“I know I’m not unique; everybody worries in this country,” Marciano says. “I think that was one of the reasons I was chosen. A part of my character is the working stiff. The part middle America can identify with . . .We’re not rich, and we’re trying to make a go of it in this world. I think that’s why my character is so popular.”
Marciano’s popularity may also stem from his sense of humor toward each of the unfortunate situations in which he has found himself: dealing with sunken boats, broken engines, and days at a time where he has returned to shore with no fish. Referring to the episode where his boat breaks down, he says, “For that performance, I should have gotten an Emmy.”
Character or not, Marciano says, “People tell me all the time I’m the real deal, and other than having fun with [the show], I know what’s going on. I don’t live in a vacuum, and I’m not a goldfish in a bowl. I just try to do what I do and have a little fun with it. I know this is an opportunity.”
Another Season 3 highlight will feature the spirited Paul Hebert as captain aboard his own boat, the Wicked Pissah. After being asked to leave his position of first-mate aboard FV-Tuna.com, Hebert bounced around first to the Bounty Hunter—another boat on the show run by Capt. Bill Monte—and then to another boat, the Lisa & Jake, for the remaining part of Season 2.
While he may have been asked to leave the “dot com,” it was a good plan in the long run. A longtime friend of Hebert and captain of FV-Tuna.com, Dave Carraro says, “I asked Paul what he was waiting for. He needed to get his own boat.”
Hebert agrees it was the best choice for himself as well. “[In] Season 3, these guys [will be] in big trouble. I’m going to kick everyone’s ass. I can go and do what I want and where I want,” Hebert says. “I’m restricted when I work for someone else. Between my brother and [me], we have 90 years of experience. Tuna is what we do best.”
It would seem that bluefin tuna fishing is in Hebert’s blood. “I’ve been doing this my whole life. We’ve never done anything else—my father, grandfather, five older brothers, and my mother. We’ve only done this for a living for 75 years,” Hebert says. “The best part is the freedom of being on the water—getting away and being your own boss. It’s nice to shine and do what I do and make money at it.”
Despite the heavy competition, the fishermen do remain friendly. Hebert says, “Dave [Carraro] and I are best friends…He even let me stay at his house until I could get back on my feet again after Tropical Storm Irene destroyed my home in Vermont. Helping is an important part of being successful; you have to be positive and you have to have a lot of drive.”
Season 3 will also feature the Bounty Hunter’s captain Bill Monte and his wife Donna.
“We don’t know what will happen next season. We’re trying to put a new guy on the boat, but we have to check with Pilgrim Productions,” Monte said. “If I can get this guy on my boat, it makes it easier to catch them, because [First Mate] Scott is kinda the movie star.”
As for Captain Carraro of FV-Tuna.com, he has had many heated exchanges with several of the other boat captains, including Captain McLaughlin of the Pinwheel. “Nobody likes a winner,” Carraro explains.” The more fish I catch, the more people are jealous. Even Dave said it. It’s lonely being on top, and that’s the truth.”
Carraro, who was actually no longer “on top” by the end of Season 2, has still not been able to wrap his head around all this fame. “It’s surreal. I don’t get it because I’m just an average person; I’m just a fisherman,” he says, adding, “People will stop me on airplanes, in restaurants, and even in the restroom.” Despite the potentially overwhelming attention, Carraro says he enjoys meeting fans of the show, particularly families with kids.
When asked what to expect for Season 3 from the “dot com,” as he calls his vessel, Carraro says that not much will change. “You don’t fix what isn’t broken,” he says. If viewership is any indication, “Wicked Tuna” won’t need a tune up any time soon.
For more information about the show, including scheduling, visit National Geographic Channel.
This article appeared in the August 2013 issue of Northshore Magazine