On tonight’s all-new Deadliest Catch, two captains’ kids take giant steps forward in their familial legacies. More than three years after her captain Phil Harris’s tragic passing, the Cornelia Marie returns to the fleet with Harris’ son Josh — the boat’s new owner — in the wheelhouse.
And aboard the Northwestern, captain Sig Hansen welcomes a familiar new greenhorn — his beautiful, blonde 18-year-old daughter, Mandy, who has convinced her parents to let her work aboard the boat for a few days of the opilio crab season while her school’s on winter break.
Having spent four summers working aboard the boat during the salmon tendering season —and with the end of high school and the start of maritime academy looming — the younger Hansen is ready to test-drive potential career options.
“This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” says Mandy. “I’ve always wanted to go fishing, because for the past four years, I’ve been on the Northwestern for salmon tendering, so I’ve been looking at seiners this whole time. That’s what I wanted to try at first was to go seining for salmon. When I finally talked [Sig] into letting me come up there — as I got that possibility — it was something that I definitely needed to prove to myself and to the guys that I was capable of doing.
“It was a surprise hearing that she wanted to try this at this age — and being a girl,” Sig admits. “But at the same time, I think it was fit for her. And we were kind of boxed into a corner anyway, because mom and I decided when she did ask to come up, “If you can get out school, that would be fine.” And she called our bluff [laughs]. So you have to stick to what you say. I think it was just meant to be.”
We caught up with Sig and Mandy Hansen last week to talk Deadliest Catch, family legacies and what kind of advice dad gave his girl aboard the boat.
Channel Guide Magazine: Sig, the series has always laid bare the physical, psychological and familial toll that is inherent with being a professional fisherman, but the government shutdown at the start of Season 10 also really highlights how tenuous the financial aspect. What’s it like knowing that you don’t just have a cautionary tale to tell your kids — you have a show that puts it all out there for all of us?
Sig Hansen: For me, even growing up, fishing was so volatile. We’ve had king crab season shut down for three, sometimes four years in a row. And when your income relies on getting that boat out there, there is no retirement plan, so to speak. You don’t know from one year to the next if you’re even going to go fishing to make a living. With the government shutdown, that was tough and it was stressful because it can drastically affect the price of the seafood. So, that being said, when you look at the next generation trying to get into something like this, if you can find a job that’s steady pay and that you can count on and be on the beach — that’s great. Because this lifestyle, it’s not for everybody.
But us being of Norwegian descent, our whole community was fisherman, so you just accept that and you live accordingly. It’s a scary way to make a living. And it’s not just the danger — it’s volatile, so you have to really want it with your heart and accept the kind of lifestyle that it is.
CGM: To me, the sense of family — both blood and bonded by the work — is one of the biggest draws of Deadliest Catch. So even though you might worry about your girl, does her showing interest in being part of the deck crew seem like a natural progression not just for you but for your family, for better or for worse?
SH: Absolutely. It’s inherent. It’s strange to me, but I could see through her eyes, because I’ve been there. When you grow up and your whole social system is the fishing industry — everybody that we associate with here in Seattle are fisherman. They’re in the business. The Norwegian community is a fishing community and there’s lot of them here in Seattle. And we travel back and forth to Norway; we try to go once a year to go visit Grandma and Grandpa. We’ve got generations of fisherman behind us.
So when you grow up in that world and the old stories are talked about and you hear about what your grandpa has done and what your dad has done, it becomes a part of you. And of course it’s going to raise your curiosity. And then you get a little taste of it, like Mandy does in the summertime and then you want more, because it’s exciting.
So for Mandy, it’s a part of our family on both sides — both her grandfathers — so I can understand why a kid would want to do it, and I would never hold her back. I just didn’t think she would be up there this year [laughs]]! But it just gives you pride. Pride in your family business. Pride in your Nordic heritage. And pride in fishing. And she’s always been about that. So that’s kind of neat.
For any teenager, I think it’s the perfect opportunity to get out there, get your hands dirty, make a buck for yourself instead playing a video game and earn something. Have something to be proud of. I think every kid should get out there, whether it’s fishing or farming. It teaches you that work ethic.
CGM: Mandy, is it something you always wanted to do or have you considered taking a different path.
Mandy Hansen: I’ve always wanted to do it. But all through school they try pushing college on you and I was like, “What is college?! My parents never went to college! They went out working right away!” And that’s what I just figured that I would want to do.
Of course when you’ve got the Northwestern right next door and they need another deckhand, that’s where I want to be! I didn’t think I would have the opportunity — that’s the difference there — so I started looking into different maritime academies. You can’t just rely on one thing, as my dad was saying earlier. Of course, fishing is an income, but it’s not always steady, so I would like to at least have a backup.
I have an older sister, Nina, and she’s never really liked the water. She gets seasick and she’s just not a hands-on kind of girl, so she never really wanted to go out fishing. She’s opening her own naturopathic clinic, so she’s got her own business going on.
CGM: We’ve seen all kinds of tough stuff happen to the Deadliest Catch captains and crew — do you worry about dad as much as dad worries about you? Does it go both ways?
MH: I believe it does. Looking back before, the guys left and went out and went fishing and they came back home and you just listened to the stories. It wasn’t until I tuned into the TV show myself that I realized that it’s crazy out there and it is dangerous and maybe these guys won’t even come back. I didn’t worry at all until the TV show.
We used to have a TAG phone at home and I’d talk to my dad back and forth on the TAG phone, He’d tell me how it’s going and whether there was crab or not, and then he would just say, “Oh I have to go.” Well, looking at TV, there’s a reason he had to go! He was taking on big waves or something broke in the engine room — something was always going on. That’s when I started worrying!
CGM: What about the other part of your dad being on TV — the part where he’s a celebrity now?
MH: I thought it was ridiculous! He’s just my dad — why are people making such a big deal? We’re going out to dinner and someone would come up and want to shake his hand and I never understood it. I know these guys as my family. And even when I watch the TV show, I see it as a documentary for us. A kind of home video. And I don’t understand how anyone can see it any other way. But then again, after I got this opportunity to be involved in the show, I also go the opportunity to go to a Discovery event where other reality show people — I don’t want to call them stars — but other reality show people were at the same event and I was like, “Oh my goodness! There’s that guy!” You do recognize him almost like a movie star, so now I can kind of understand why other people like my dad.
CGM: Sig, what was that like for you when you realized that the little show you were doing about fishing was lasting season after season, and people all around the world knew exactly who you are?
SH: In all honesty, it made me wonder if we were doing the right thing! There’s privacy issues and we’re really humble people, pretty down to earth, and it made me second-guess myself. Is my family going to get caught up in this thing? Is my head going to swell? Is it going to help or hurt my marriage? Because you’re flabbergasted! And I guess the reason why is plainly because when we first agreed to let a camera on the boat, it was just a one-off documentary — which spun off and snowballed into ten years of Deadliest Catch. I’m very proud of that and it’s very flattering.
I don’t regret doing the program. It’s done wonders for the industry. From the second it went on the air, I always knew — you cannot buy this kind of advertising for fisherman. It’s impossible. People never complain about what they pay for seafood anymore. They understand how it gets from the ocean to their plate, and they respect it and now they understand. And I’m proud of that.
And for me personally, it changed my life. When I was in school, if I had to read an essay or something in class, I’d sick that day. I couldn’t stand up in front of my classmates. Now we do speaking engagements and I’ve developed that confidence there. That’s kind of neat! We’ve gotten to travel all over the world for Discovery and that’s really life-changing. It’s been a really neat journey. Who would have thought? I can’t say enough about it.
CGM: And now you millions of people who consider you and your crew members and your fellow fisherman family, too.
SH: I don’t think you’ll ever see a show as real as Deadliest Catch. People follow you, and they do feel like they’re a part of your family. That’s kind of scary at times; it makes you wonder. But the good news is, it’s always a pat on the back. People always say, “I love your show!” And I say, “My life is not a show, so what you’re saying is you love my life.” And people smile and laugh and say, yes, I never thought of it that way!” People are genuinely connected to these crew members. Every one of these guys is a damn character and I think people can relate. And they do.
This morning alone, we have a little pleasure boat about at a marina about 10 minutes from the house and I get down there and meet my brother and we go check it out and we’re walking back to my truck and a guy sees us and comes up. Ten minutes go by and he’s all about Jake and Matt and all the guys on the boat and how he likes ours the best — it’s like he knew us forever. And half the time I don’t know when I meet someone — is this an old friend, or is this a fan? Is this a person I went to school with, or someone who watches the show? It’s just the weirdest thing!
CGM: Is there anything about the show you would change?
SH: One thing that bugs me — because we fish for months and they condense everything and I get that — but my wife was at the airport recently and she went to buy a magazine and the lady behind her tapped her on the shoulder and said, “How can you be married to such a mean guy?” My wife laughed and said, “What are you talking about!?”
Maybe the lady saw an episode where I had to get tough with the crew, and I don’t care if it’s one month or four — I will not get out of that mental state until I’m back on the plane home. You are in the job every minute, every second of every day, because you have to be. You’re responsible for every man, ever minute, so you’re on edge. There’s never any downtime to relax. So maybe the lady saw me yell at my crew. But she’s never seen me at home being a nice guy with the girls or walking our dogs or going dirt biking with my kid. We do charity events for Make-a-Wish and Ronald McDonald House — but the fans only see the crew when they’re on the job; they don’t know the family guys. But people watch because they like these characters, and they’re so in tune with the people on the show. And that is pretty damned flattering!
CGM: Mandy is a very beautiful girl — is it at least a little solace for you that if she’s going to choose a career that’s going to put her on TV, it’s happening on Deadliest Catch? And are you worried that after people do see her on TV, other entertainment folks might come calling?
SH: [Laughs] Well, I’m pretty sure she’s college-bound, No. 1. I don’t think you’ll ever find a more levelheaded kid; I mean, think about who raised her. If she gets through this college program, she will have a license bigger than mine and she’ll have opportunities to go into the oil industry or the shipping industry or the cruise industry — and that’s what she tells me is the goal. Or fishing.
But you’ll have to ask her that. I’m not going to tell her what to do. And that would be a double standard, anyway, because someone came knocking on our door and now we’re in 200 countries and we can’t go anywhere without being recognized. Was it an opportunity? Yes. Was it fate? Probably.
[To Mandy] What if they were looking for a blonde Norwegian girl to be in a soap opera? Would you do it?
MH: Well, I wouldn’t do it without running it by you, first of all — but as far as other TV stuff, I’d take a couple of opportunities. There’s experience there, too! But if it gets in the way of school or traveling or my family, I definitely wouldn’t do it.
CGM: Mandy, was it daunting knowing that the cameras were capturing everything you did? Because you seemed as comfortable with them as you did on the ship and in the water.
MH: I don’t know if I ever got exactly used to the cameras, but I was doing what I went there to do and they weren’t going to hold me back. Of course, it was uncomfortable having them there all the time because I’ve never done this sort of stuff before. I’ve never done interviews. I haven’t had a random person come up to me and start asking questions. But it’s a great opportunity and a great experience.
SH: I gave her a little advice with the camera guys when they were on the boat — I bet you can guess what [laughs]. Because she’s so focused on her job and she really wanted to just perform well and she said, “Well, what if the camera guy bugs me?” And I said, “Well, he’s just there to film you, so don’t worry too much about it — and if he does bug you, you tell him, “Kiss my ass!”
MH: Sometimes I had to!
Mandy Hansen joins the Northwestern crew on tonight’s all-new Deadliest Catch at 9/8CT on Discovery.
Images/video: Discovery Channel