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Reality TV comes to Gloucester for ‘Wicked Tuna’

Donna Monte of Salem and her husband, Bill, are featured on the National Geographic Channel show “Wicked Tuna.’’ Donna Monte of Salem and her husband, Bill, are featured on the National Geographic Channel show “Wicked Tuna.’’ (National Geographic)
By Steven A. Rosenberg
Globe Staff / March 22, 2012
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The fishermen drop their r’s, sip on Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, and occasionally curse.

There’s nothing contrived about “Wicked Tuna,’’ a new reality show that follows several fishermen out of Gloucester who spend a season chasing one of the ocean’s largest and fastest fish: the bluefin tuna.

The 10-part series premieres at 10 p.m. April 1 on the National Geographic Channel.

While the format is similar to Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch,’’ which follows fishermen chasing Alaskan king crab in the Bering Sea, the pace of “Wicked Tuna’’ is slower, allowing the viewer to grasp the range of emotions fishermen experience.

The viewer gets a glimpse of the small talk that fills a boat, including use of local slang - it’s wicked this, wicked that - as crew members go about their routine in the silence of the open seas. Bait is carefully tossed off the boat to attract the tuna, the captain stares at the electronic fish finder in search of schools, and crew members deliver soliloquies that include predictions about when the fish will bite.

While the fishermen, who live in Gloucester, Salem, and Beverly, said they enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame, the real star of the program is the North Atlantic bluefin tuna. Capable of swimming at 50 miles an hour, the fish can grow to 8 feet long and weigh 1,000 pounds. One big fish can fetch $10,000 or more.

Once abundant, bluefin tuna have been targeted in recent decades, since about 80 percent of the catch is sent to Japan and cut into sushi. According to National Geographic, the bluefin population is now about a quarter of 1950 levels. Much of the overfishing can be traced to a lack of regulations and enforcement for European and Asian fishermen, who catch the tuna with large nets. US fishermen catch bluefin with a traditional rod and reel or a handline.

While the show focuses on what it’s like to catch a 900-pound fish, National Geographic also has created a website and commercials that focus on the future of the bluefin tuna.

“Our whole reason for being is to illuminate issues, and this is an important issue,’’ said Terry Garcia, a former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator who is an executive vice president at National Geographic.

The show was filmed last fall in Gloucester and followed fishing captains both on land and at sea, using helicopters for wide shots, and placing a videographer on each boat.

The series does not pit one fishing captain against another, or reward one boat for catching the most fish. While fishermen were paid to take part in the series, the show aims - and succeeds - at portraying authentic life at sea.

Fishing is one of the most regulated professions, and the fishermen are urged to follow every law. Bluefin tuna are measured and must be at least 73 inches or longer to be legally sold.

“This is just a good way to show conservationists that we fish in a very responsible manner: one man, one rod, and one hook,’’ said Dave Carraro, captain of Tuna.com. “The way we do it keeps a very sustainable fishery, as opposed to overseas, where they use large nets and catch whole schools of bluefin.’’

Carraro, who is also a commercial pilot, moved to Gloucester 12 years ago specifically to catch bluefin tuna off the coast.

Dave Marciano, captain of Hard Merchandise, is also a featured fisherman in the series. He said he was approached by the show’s producers last year and quickly agreed to be included, because he wanted to show viewers that modern fisherman are responsible ocean stewards.

“I think we’re the original conservationists. People get the perception that we’re Vikings out there killing and pillaging. We’re professionals. We obey the rules,’’ said Marciano, who started fishing at Salem Willows and still lives in his hometown of Beverly.

The show also succeeds at documenting the adrenaline-filled moments that occur while reeling in a fish.

While some bluefin can stay on a hook for as long as 10 or 12 hours, the edited scenes are cut to a couple of minutes. Often, the fish wins and escapes the hook.

“It’s like tying your rope to a freight train and having it drive off,’’ Marciano said.

The show also includes the husband-wife fishing team of Bill and Donna Monte of Salem. The two work together at sea during the bluefin season from summer until fall, and also operate a charter fishing boat out of Gloucester.

Bill Monte said the key to landing bluefin tuna is sharing information with other trusted captains, especially on a day when there are hundreds of boats off the Gloucester coast looking to land the same fish.

“If everybody works together, everybody catches more fish. It may be your turn today; it may be my turn tomorrow,’’ he said.

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg @globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.

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