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Shelf Life

Fishing for crabs, dealing with danger

Kai Ryssdal Apr 29, 2008
Shelf Life

Fishing for crabs, dealing with danger

Kai Ryssdal Apr 29, 2008


Kai Ryssdal: The president mentioned ANWR this morning more than a couple of times, but there is more up in Alaska than just oil. The state’s famous for nature at its grandest.

But that nature can be deadly too, something nobody knows better than Alaskan crab fishermen.

Fortunately, you and I can enjoy their risk-taking from the safety of our living room couches. Because, the Discovery Channel has just started the third season of its hit show “Deadliest Catch.” It is a wild ride with crab fishermen out on the Bering Sea.

Brothers Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand share the captaining duties on their boat, Time Bandit.

Guys, welcome to the program.

Andy Hillstrand: Glad to be here.

Johnathan Hillstrand: Thanks for having us.

Ryssdal: Andy, let me ask you first: Why do you guys do what you do for a living?

Andy Hillstrand: Well, you know, we’ve been on boats ever since we were about 3 years old. And so our daddy used to sail off into the sunset. We’d always watch him and we’d always want to go. We’d beg him to go fishing. So we grew up watching our dad fish. And then he finally started taking us, and then pretty soon the time passes by and you just love it — it’s in your blood. You can’t live without it.

Ryssdal: Johnathan, do you remember how much your first paycheck was for actual work on the boat?

Johnathan Hillstrand: When I was 17, I made $128,000.

Ryssdal: I’m sorry, what?

Johnathan Hillstrand: $128,000 when I was 17 that year.

Ryssdal: I have to ask you what you did with the money.

Johnathan Hillstrand: I wrecked three brand-new trucks, no insurance. Had a presidential suite, limos, girls — everything, you name it. Heh heh.

Ryssdal: One of the things you guys talk about a lot in the book is your perception of how crabbing has changed in the 20 or 30 years you’ve been in it. Would you say it’s better for you now, or is it safer but not as much fun?

Johnathan Hillstrand: We wish we could go back to the old way.

Ryssdal: Do you really, even though safety and regulations and all that stuff have made it arguably less difficult and less dangerous?

Andy Hillstrand: Well, this is Andy and it’s kind of nice now that you can maybe take a few hours off if you need it, but when they issued all this quota out, we went from 270 boats down to 70 boats, so now basically, 70 of us are out there fishing all the other guys’ quota, so now we’re still having to race for the crab; it’s just over a longer period of time. So there’s just less of us out there to get hurt, but when one of us goes down, the odds… you know, then the statistic would be huge because there’s only 70 of us instead of 270.

Ryssdal: Johnathan, I wanted to talk to you about the risk-reward curve that you guys have, because certainly watching the show and reading the book, it’s dangerous as all get out out there and there’s a moment, I guess maybe it was last year where the ship’s going up and down and you look off your beam, I guess, and you saw a guy basically go in the water. What was that like for you and do you still think about that?

Johnathan Hillstrand: Yeah, well you never think you’re going to be that guy. You know, we’re tough Bering Sea crabbers; we’ll never be the guy in the water, but yeah, my legs were shaking for two hours after we rescued him. I’ve done the opposite and pulled guys out of the water that didn’t live, and so that was quite an accomplishment.

Ryssdal: Andy, what do you guys worry about when you’re out on that boat?

Andy Hillstrand: Pretty much we worry about someone getting hurt or killed. That’s like always there in the back of your head. We’re lucky our wheelhouse is on the back of our boat so we can see the guys on deck all the time. But you know, you worry about that, you worry about fire, you worry about making the guys money so they can go home and feed their families. And it’s just constant worry out there until you finally tie up to the dock and, boy, it’s like once you get off that boat, because the engines are always running, it’s almost like your body’s just been… like you have a motor inside of you that’s been going the whole time. You finally get away from all the loud engines and it’s almost like you’re shutting yourself down like a car. It’s crazy.

Ryssdal: Alright guys, thanks a lot. Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand are the co-owners of a boat called the Time Bandit. You can see them on Discovery Channel: “The Deadliest Catch,” They’ve got a book out too. It’s called “Time Bandit: Two Brothers, the Bering Sea, and One of the World’s Deadliest Jobs.” Guys, thanks a lot for coming in.

Johnathan Hillstrand: Hey, thank you.

Andy Hillstrand: Alright, thanks a lot man.

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