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‘Deadliest Catch’ star captain Sig Hansen on prying John Hillstrand out of retirement: ‘It was pretty tough’

EXCLUSIVE:deadliest-catch” target=”_blank”>Deadliest Catch< thought this season was a wash.

The popular series’ 17th installment, which premieres Tuesday night on Discovery, was met with big challenges on land and sea and grave uncertainty surrounding the infectious-disease, which kept boats of the Bering Sea fleet tied up in Seattle, Wa. However, Captain Hansen had an additional concern: his longtime sea-dwelling partner in arms, the legendary Johnathan Hillstrand, 58, had retired and left the game for good – and Sig, 54, had to get him back for the sake of the entire crabbing industry.

“You’re talking about John Hillstrand now. I’ll tell you what, trying to convince a guy like that is pretty tough because he’s got a one-track mind,” Hansen, who helms the “F/V Northwestern,” told Fox News of the uphill battle he faced reeling his good friend back to the biz.

Sig said it’s “tunnel vision” for Hillstrand as he was adamant about never returning to the fishery.


He’s like, “‘I’m retiring. I’m going to be on my motorcycle or my racecar and I’m going to go do me,’” Hansen recalled. “That’s how John is and that’s why we love John. But that being said, he understood and between him and me, it was like, ‘Look, because now we have a quota system, we can now lease, buy and sell our crab that we have for each vessel. So if he’s leasing his crab, well, that’s great.  That means that he has no overhead, he’s not putting his boat to work and he can lease his numbers and then share in that wealth.”

With Hillstrand’s hand, he would bring on a massive operation as commander of the “F/V Time Bandit,” and could easily provide a lifeline to help catch the fleet’s towering 5-million-pound fall season quota.”


“If you don’t set that precedent for this year and if they do close it, we’re looking at a disaster and now you’ve got nothing to lease because there’s nothing to catch,” Hansen explained of the inner-workings and pitch to Hillstrand.

“So once he understood that, it was an easy one,” Hansen continued. “You know, it was like, ‘OK, now that makes sense. I better get off my bum and go do something here and play ball. And that’s exactly what he did. And trying to get a guy off the bench and back out in it – once it comes down to the numbers and his own sustainability, he started singing a different tune pretty quick and so did a lot of guys because, I mean, we didn’t know if you were going to have an industry – the fleet was tied up, you’ve got insurance to pay and then there’s a liability. All of that plays into it and a lot of guys were, quite frankly, afraid. What if COVID creeps on my boat, am I liable? You know, it’s a whole different ballgame up there.”

'Deadliest Catch' captains Sig Hansen and Jake Anderson explain how they're living the American DreamVideo

Given the mitigating circumstances that saw the fate of the fishing industry hanging in the balance, Hansen said he and his team had to resort to different methods of hitting their quotas – especially considering the pandemic didn’t allow for a proper crabbing survey to be conducted which would determine how much crab is up for grabs and how much they can legally catch.

Furthermore, similar to any market shaken by the coronavirus pandemic which halted many industries – future intentions needed to be established and for Captain Sig Hansen, it was paramount “that we can predetermine for the next year and the year after that establishes the marketplace as well.”


That meant teaming up with unlikely rivals to meet numbers which can backfire if another team isn’t willing to play nicely with information.

“It was hard for us because we didn’t have that road map because sometimes when you look at the survey, you can kind of tell if crab are not going to be there at the same spot months later after the survey,” explained Hansen. “But you can kind of judge if they’re going to be spread out and you can kind of get an idea of where you want to start.”

'Deadliest Catch' star Captain Sig Hansen opened up to Fox News about the challenges of crabbing in Season 17.

‘Deadliest Catch’ star Captain Sig Hansen opened up to Fox News about the challenges of crabbing in Season 17.

He continued: “And if you don’t have a good idea where to start – except for the guys to know how to read the survey, you’re fishing in the dark. And so that’s why we have to change our strategy. So every year of fishing is different. You never can expect the same thing. You hardly ever find crab in the same place twice in a row.”


Despite the new strategies Hansen and many other crabbers implemented, Hansen said the comradery felt familiar and brought him back to the “good old days” of fishing.

“We were in the dark and then we had to rely on each other, you know, which was a really different — and it kind of brought me back to the good old days because we did do a lot more communicating back then and now it’s to each his own,” said Hansen. “And so it’s been different.”

Added the captain: “But we did manage to form an alliance, worked together, and we brought some guys like John Hillstrand – he came up out of retirement to come and help and kind of set that precedent, set the bar so that we could get the job done at the end of the day, we got her done.”

Season 17 of “Deadliest Catch” premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Discovery.

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