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Deadliest Catch star Sig Hansen on Harley’s tactics, Hillstrand, the Russians and USA ‘sucking it up’ to get through COVID-19

Sig Hansen
Sig Hansen is direct and outspoken, and what he says about Harley Davidson may surprise you. Pic credit: Discovery

Deadliest Catch sailed into its 16th season with the core cast still at the helm. Discovery Channel’s top-rated Tuesday night block finds the Alaskan crab-fishing fleet facing stepped-up Russian competition for the best payday.

The rival Russians have a brand-new crab quota system and have allegedly taken steps to end bad fishing practices and poaching.

The season is also colored by Typhoon Hagibis, as the race is on to cash in and fill holds with the prized crustaceans.

Based in the nearby Seattle-area, Sig Hansen, the Norwegian-American captain of the Northwestern, is a pro at gauging crab migration and primo fishing ground.

Hansen is a gregarious personality, one of the only captains to be cast on Celebrity Apprentice (Trump fired him) and someone who has fought back against the lifestyle that led to a 2016 heart attack scare.

This season, Sig’s got more worries as Hagibis, fellow captain Steve “Harley” Davidson, and keeping his stress levels down are all in play.

He spoke with us about ghost pots, eavesdropping tactics, the Russian threat, and why America needs to “suck it up” and mind the social distancing and COVID-19 mitigations that so many seem to protest against across the country.

For him, it is more important for Americans to swim in a school right now than prematurely break away and possibly risk a life.

Monsters & Critics: Talk about the Harley Davidson situation right out of the gate, the ghost pots, the eavesdropping during Hagibis storm. What do you make of this strategy?

Sig Hansen:  Yes… well remember that I’m just catching up on all of this myself, so I didn’t know about the ghost pots until I saw it on the show.

As far as the ghost pots, well, that’s an old trick. We did it ourselves back in the day.

It is just a way to get ahead and get any information, which is good information. We don’t do it now because we have a quota system.

M&C: Steve “Harley” Davidson noted in the previous episode that his mother-in-law and your mother are best friends.

Sig Hansen:  His mother-in-law is Greta, who was married to a fellow by the name of Oddvar. I think my dad actually signed for him to come over [from Norway].

Oddvar was actually a captain on the Northwestern. So, he was always a hero of mine. And as far as Harley, we are friends. If we have a Christmas party, of course, they are welcome, things of that nature.

Harley also manages one of the fleets for the salmon tendering and managing my boat in the summer when they’re chartering or tendering for salmon.

I have got a pretty good reputation, and he has a lot of connections, so he’ll utilize whatever he can. Which for me, it is flattering. If I know a guy’s chasing me down or if they are eavesdropping, I am doing something right.

M&C: Talk about the existential threat with the Russian crabbers, and how does Russian crab infiltrate American grocery stores and restaurants?

Sig Hansen: It’s a global market. I would say roughly 50 percent of our crab goes to Asia, and Asia usually sets the market price. There is a lot of Canadian crab out there too.

As far as Russian crabbers, there has been a lot of overfishing. The Russians have different size limits so they can really harm the markets at times.

And also, if they’re going to start taking less and they have more of a quota system, then that’ll drive prices up. It was always supply and demand.

They are supposed to label the origin, so if you go to a store, it should say product of Russia or product of Canada. But I know I have been to some places where I see Russian crab with an American label.

I have seen that.

M&C: Have you ever physically encountered a Russian crabber out in the Bering sea, and was it a pleasant exchange?

Sig Hansen: [Laughs] Back in the day before GPS, you would get close, but because of the demarcation line, and you would hear them, but you’re not going to understand anything.

We have had moments where Russian military gunships were upon us. And in the day when they did not have GPS, there was a gray zone rather than a line.

So, we’d fish across the line and then, you would see gunships. They would force you back. In the ’80s, mostly. That is when we were fishing opilio.

M&C: Josh Harris told us that his dad Phil relied on for advice and respected you as businessmen. Talk about that history with Phil and your hopes for Josh Harris in this new series Bloodline.

Sig Hansen:  Everybody partied together back in the day, but a lot of those connections were… I have got to be honest, were dependent on if you were just into alcohol and other things.

That is how a lot of connections were made. Kind of like in high school. Who you hung out with …But I think Phil saw me through my father. I reminded him of my father a lot.

I’m proud to say that because my dad was a standup guy. And Phil knew that I was a standup guy when it came to business.

I know that he trusted me because his youngest son Jake was under my watch on the Northwestern, and back then, there was a swap we did with the two Jake’s years ago.

We would always have different conversations about things…what our aspirations were, things like that. And to me, that’s very flattering. But I think it is also because of our reputation as a family.

He said that to me, he had very big respect for my father. And he saw that I was trying to follow in those footsteps, the same path.

I’m really happy to hear that Josh said that that. That just means I am doing something right there too. One other thing, my dad always said, it is not how much money you make [fishing], it is what you saved.

And with Josh, I’ve talked to him about the Cornelia Marie when he came to me and asked about a strategy plan, things like that. I think because the Northwestern is paid for with no financial burden.

M&C: You shaped Jake Anderson, he was your greenhorn, and you were his mentor. How do you feel about his success?

Sig Hansen: Jake has an old school mentality. I think he just gets better as time goes on this year. I can tell you, when we did work together, it was like the lightbulb went off in his head.

He would say, ‘now I understand what you’ve been trying to tell me all these years.’

Now hopefully, they portray all of that [on the series]. But we must cut the show because of the time. We are out there [in the Bering sea] a long time.

I get angry with Jake when suddenly if something goes wrong or something and he flails about, and then I remind him I didn’t teach him to be a ding-a-ling. You have got to learn all on your own.

Boat comes first. That one rule, I think just what he is driven by.

And you can see it in all his actions. Everything he does, every time he fires somebody, every time he gets in an argument, it’s always the boat comes first. He lives that rule.

That is all you do and that’s what you care about. And then the rest will come in time.

M&C: Talk about Jonathan Hillstrand being cast back on the show?

Johnathan Hillstrand
Hillstrand closes the preview with a heart-stopping alert call on deck, as a pot cuts loose. Pic credit: Discovery

Sig Hansen:  Man, it does not surprise me, because fishing is an addiction.

As far as John coming back, it was really, when I heard that I was just shaking my head, going, yeah, you can tell me you’re gonna retire a million times. I’ve heard it hundreds of times before, from many different people, and they always seem to come back.

We never fully retire, even when the boat is fishing without me…it’s still in your head. But Johnathan being with Jake? That surprised me, such an odd couple, but so far it seems to be working.

Both are Type A personalities, and Jake… well, I am sure he is going to struggle with Johnathan. I hope that does not hold Jake back.

M&C: Is there a moment in your head now where you’re like, I’ll be okay if I relinquish my captain’s chair and transition myself from the ship to doing something in a Northwestern branded business?

Sig Hansen: In Norway, I do clothing sales.

We have come up with a dried bait done differently than before. The bait drying process is different. Norway is one of the largest producers of farmed salmon.

Our fish bait is sustainable because it’s made up of fish meal and a few other ingredients that I can’t say. It is a great product.

Also, I am endorsing Resqunit.

If Norway makes these [devices] mandatory, well then you go over to Canada because that’s a socialist country too. They will make it mandatory.

And then once you get that through, then you go to England, Australia, then you come to America…there is a huge market waiting.

M&C: Will you be out there five years from now on the Northwestern?

Sig Hansen:  Oh, hell yes. I will.

But it gets harder every year you do because you’re getting older, you’re thinking about your own mortality. I am fearful. I mean, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t afraid. Not just scared, afraid, and that’s honest.

I’m thinking about Mandy, and I think about Clark and, and who’s going to do what, but are you ready to give it up? Heck no. I just do not see it.

When John [Hillstrand] retired, it blew me away. I could not believe it. That is why it didn’t surprise me when I saw him come back.

M&C: Many fans of yours who watch Deadliest Catch, they’re part of that wave of people that want to resist the quarantine. If you could talk to them directly, the people that are out there waving American flags. What would you say to them?

Sig Hansen:  Obviously, they are the kind of people that want to get out and live life. I understand what you mean by that. I’m one of them. John’s [Hillstrand] is one of them.

But at the end of the day, if you have a common goal, it’s like when you’re fishing everyone has a common goal. And I think with this, the goal is to stay indoors.

If everybody just gets on that same mindset, then you’ll be able to rip that band-aid off that much sooner. They have got to understand that and then just dig in and do it.

But my heart goes out to people that have lost work or that can’t afford to be in that position, or if you’re home alone and you’re a single person, this is horrible.

As far as us [crabbers], we are out months without communication, rationing food, it’s no different, but we have a common goal.

They are going to have to just suck it up and then realize that when it’s over, there’s your reward. Be proud of that! Anybody that cries about, “I can’t go on a date or I can’t go to the movies or I don’t get to do this” — suck it up, buttercup.

It’s a small piece of time. It really is. But I mean for most people that are not used to, I get it. You are just going to rip the band-aid off slower and make it more painful, do more damage. And that is dumb.

Deadliest Catch airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on Discovery

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Nancy Hall

Harley needs a lesson in ethics and thrown off the show. His tactics are sickening and I really don’t want to watch him anymore. Even his crew knows he’s stealing.