National Geographic Channel’s reality television show “Wicked Tuna” has gotten mixed reviews from the tuna fishing crowd out on the Cape. Some like the show, but say it is only good for its “entertainment value.” Others say it is a gross misportrayal of the industry.
Here’s a look at a five of the myths about the show, so you can make your own call.
Myth: It’s scripted.
“It’s not scripted,” said the new kid to the show Tyler McLaughlin, 25. “They give us a plotline we sort of follow, but it’s not scripted.”
Cameramen spend weeks at a time on the boats with the fishermen gathering footage. When it comes time to edit and put a show together, they come up with mini plotlines, according to McLaughlin to make the show a little more interesting to watch. But at the end of the day, the show still reflects who the cast is.
“I have a reputation for saying what I want,” says Dave Marciano, the captain of Hard Merchandise. He will admit, however, that the show caused him to exxagerate a little bit.
“We have to have high energy,” he said. He noted that prior to the show he wouldn’t talk to his first mate Jay Muenzner, when they hooked a fish.
“We go right into business mode (when we hook up). We get our game faces on,” he said. “For the T.V. show they were like ‘wait a minute your paycheck is on the line. Can you show a little excitement here?’ … that was one of the things we had to learn because you know it has to be good T.V. we had to go with the ‘oh yeah we got a big one.’’”
Myth: The prices.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the government group charged with regulating the industry, the average price for a bluefin tuna in Massachusetts in $6.09 a pound, which isn’t even close to the $15 being offered to the guys on the show.
“Those numbers are inflated,” said Eric Stewart, a captain based out of Chatham who runs tuna charters.
That’s not to say that captains on the show don’t occasionally bring in a wicked nice fish into the market at the right time, therefore generating top dollar prices. But every time? No way.
“I have gotten $25,000 for a fish,” Marciano defended to a local tourist who asked him if the prices were real.
Myth: The show accurately depicts time.
To make the show more interesting, many different days will often be chopped up in the editing room and then strung together as if they make up one day.
An easy trick to figuring out when this happened? Watch the waves. If they start out calm and glassy and suddenly jump up to three or four foot swells, then you’ll know something happened in the editing room.
Myth: Fishing is a high drama industry.
Most of the time, the fishermen don’t even talk to each other.
“We had never interacted before the shows) because there are hundreds of boats that do this tuna fishing,” said Marciano.
The scenes of McLaughlin being pushed on a dock or of mocking other boat captains are mostly there to fulfil the cardinal requirement of reality television: drama. After all, name one show you watch on a television that doesn’t have some sort of tension in it.
“The drama is — at least in my 15 years, 20 years experience — isn’t nearly at the level of what the show displays,” said Brad McHale, who works as the chief of highly migratory species of the local NOAA station. “I mean there are always incidents and they’ll take place in almost any event … but nowhere as bad as that,” he said.
Myth: Everything you see is exactly how it happened.
Everything you see is pretty much as it happened, but not exactly how it happened. Sometimes, the crew reenacts events that the cameramen missed the first time around.
For example, in the first episode of the second season a tuna fish managed to pull a line through a small hole in the bottom of Bill Monte’s boat and wrap the line around the wheel. Mid struggle with the fish, the camera shows a shot of the line underwater.
“We did that at the dock because we couldn’t undo it while we were fishing,” said Monte. “So, we faked it there, but that’s what actually happened.”