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Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski Reveals Why Season 17 Of Deadliest Catch Was His Most Uncomfortable - Exclusive Interview

On the enduring Discovery Channel hit Deadliest Catch, danger is just another word for the average workday. As the captains and crews operate their fishing vessels in the unpredictable waters of the Bering Sea, trolling for Alaskan king crab and snow crab for as long as the narrow fishing seasons will permit them, the adversity they encounter is not only a guarantee, it comes standard with the job.

"Wild" Bill Wichrowski, the intrepid captain of the F/V Summer Bay, knows all about that adversity, having fished out of the crab fleet's home port of Dutch Harbor since 1978. But in this exclusive interview with Looper, Wichrowski was frank about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the fleet and crab fishing industry. "It was the most uncomfortable season I've ever had," he admitted, and the fallout from the pandemic is palpable as season 17 of Deadliest Catch heads out to sea. Here, "Wild" Bill tells us about his experiences on ship and shore during the new season, from COVID shutting down processing plants and crews and vessels fighting to fish ever farther north in the icy Bering Sea, to the state of the alliances these cagey fisherman were forced into forming just to stay afloat. And "Wild" Bill even describes one particular close call when the captain had to navigate Summer Bay away from the sudden threat of capsizing.

Fighting the fallout from COVID-19 and Fish and Game quotas

Crabbing is dangerous at any time of the year, obviously. Do you think that the added stress of COVID-19 made this season the toughest you've ever been a part of?

Not just because it happened — when I started the season was strange. The start of the season was the worst thing ever because we had to spend a quarantine, you couldn't move around freely, vendors were shut down. Half the fleet didn't even go. Everything was so difficult, just to get off the ground and get out of town. Once out, you know, we were our own unit and then once we got going, but the beginning was ridiculous. Then the delivery, the deliveries were totally thrown off because a couple of shore plants had an outbreak. So instead of taking your load of crab and driving to town and waiting maybe 16, 18, 24 hours, sometimes it's four to six days to offload the crab. COVID was the most uncomfortable season I've ever had. And I've been coming up here since '78, '79.

It's incredible that it's affected literally every single industry on the planet in profound ways.

Well, I mean look at shore plants. Instead of being able to have these bunkhouse rooms — we have all these workers, right? Instead of having six guys in a room, they would only have three. They had less people, the product processing took longer. The plant has a COVID shutdown, and they're one of the biggest seafood processors in the world, the biggest processor that we have.

Just the fact that you have to spend that extra time on the boat, you know, waiting, you've got to think that the meter's running that whole time.

Well, I always say time is money. And whether it's just time on your mind, but the deal is, get it done as quickly and efficiently as you can. And there was more kind of a political thing there. I might be rambling here, but the Fish and Game didn't do the usual survey. The preliminary paperwork, where they found crab and what was going on, nor did they have information that gave them numbers to give us a quota. So they gave us a quota number, but, you know, the question was, did they get the right number or did they overdo it at the end of doing. It was a small quota for us to be tested as fast as we could with the higher cost per unit. I mean, every time we pull to port, we want to make Fish and Game happy. There's enough crab to perpetuate this season we just did until they can start doing this service again.

Alliances, fishing the far north, and close calls at sea

The fact that you were all fishing blind, so to speak, was a real issue with the vessels that had made it out of port. To that end, obviously you went along with Sig's grid system plan, to share. Do you think that sort of thing is gonna hold together?

I mean, it did what it was supposed to do. Yeah. Or I think we might've failed. The idea, the concept, was there, and I think people were more helpful than they've ever been.

Can you tell us about a scary moment that you've seen that didn't make the didn't make the cameras for Deadliest Catch?

It's kind of ironic because I don't know if it's gonna make it, but my last delivery, we were assessing the entry into St. Paul Harbor, and there was a boat waiting to come out. We had a pretty horrific moment there where we got rolled over on our side. It was... there was no exact footage of it except for a guy on the camera. So I don't know how this is gonna play out. No, I think the whole season was good. Horrible weather — we had icy conditions. We're pushing farther north than we ever have. I mean, I've never fished as far north in 40-some years. There were boats that had no business being north.

Of course everybody had to go up there.

Yeah, it was the risk. It's like, from where we were fishing to St. Paul Island was over 300 miles. So you're talking a 500-mile journey to deliver crab. I mean again, the market was bad with so many plants shut down, and that's why we all kind of figured out a way to get this done.

Speaking of getting it done, I know that you always say that crabbing is high-risk, high-reward. It strikes me just with COVID and the fallout from it and going forward, that it might just get higher risk for the entire industry. Do you think there's a chance coming out of all this to make things safer, or make different protocols that would make things safer?

Well, we've already started to do what they call safer, but we're all fishermen, buddy. I don't see any that extending any kind of safety deals, but COVID made us appreciate when all the plants are operative and everything is status quo. Like, this is probably the most difficult season I've ever endured, and I've been coming up here since '78.

Deadliest Catch premieres Tuesday, April 20 at 8 PM on Discovery. The series is streaming now on Discovery+.