5/8/07 Discovery LiveChat:
Captain Sig Hansen of the F/V Northwestern
Discovery: Welcome to this week's Deadliest Catch chat. Our guest is Sig Hansen, captain aboard the Northwestern. He's a fourth generation crab fisherman and has been a captain for almost 20 years. Ask Sig about running his family-owned vessel and this season of crab fishing.
Sig: Glad to be home, and able to participate!
Kccomment: Now that you're done with the promotional tour, what did you think of all the famous people you met?
Sig: I was overwhelmed by the response I received from them. It was surprising to me that people I consider famous are looking at us the same way. It's flattering.
Will: Hello Captain Sig, what is your greatest memory out at sea? Worst?
Sig: I would chalk it up to having our greatest season. I think I was 28 years old at the time, and I think we fished 2 million pounds of opilio. Quite an accomplishment. Worst memory was when we had a deck hand, Brad Parker who had been on the boat 19 years and he was injured, hit by a rogue wave. Luckily he came out of it OK, but it was a wake-up call that things can happen at any time. We were very close, so that made it that much harder to deal with.
Lisekins: My family and I are HUGE fans. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into this proud and compelling tradition. It's a thrill to watch you and all the men do an honest day's work in some of the most spectacular scenery I've ever seen. I have one question, though - what's the deal, real men don't wear life vests?? Seriously, though, how come the only time I see anyone in a vest is when they're up on an icy stack?
Sig: Most boats make it a standard rule to wear the vest on the stack. On deck, the life vest is cumbersome and a lot of the men, though you don't see it, wear life suspenders that will fill from a CO2 cartridge. So even though you may not see it, they are more protected than you might think.
Carling: Have Edgar or Norman ever captained the boat? Would you let them?
Sig: We're weaning Edgar into the captain's chair more and more. He has not had a full season yet, but he does relieve me at times. Norman has taken the boat to and from Alaska, and it's our intent to split the captain's chair more and more as time goes on.
Dutchman: What were you thinking when Matt came to you and told you about his court date? Were you worried that you wouldn't make it? Were you mad?
Sig: My first instinct was to slap him! That's the truth. But I was surprised that Matt had kept that from me. On the Northwestern we try to keep our personal lives at home and try to fish with a clean slate. The fact that he did that did bother me, but at the same time, it didn't surprise me. We've been down that road before. But I don't hold that against Matt. I value him for his performance on deck, and to me that's number one on our boat.
Opi: How does this season compare to past seasons in terms of the weather that you faced and the catch?
Sig: King crab had its ups and downs, but the weather was fairly decent for the most part. This winter for opilio was frigid cold. I think some of the footage you'll see later will show that. But fishing, as far as weather, is always up and down. You never know one day to the next.
Kccomment: Do want your children and grandchildren to be crab fishermen or will crab fishing go the way of the cowboy?
Sig: I don't want to see crab fishing ever go away. If my children or grandchildren would like to do it, I'd never stop them. I'd like the best for them. I'd like them to go to college, but at the same time there's a part of me that would like to see them become fishermen. When I was 18, I did entertain the idea of going to college because all my friends did, and the response I got from my father was, "Are you crazy? They're making money up there!" So I never went to college, but yet I have no regrets.
Sigrox: Hello, do you see yourself fishing 10 years from now?
Sig: I see myself fishing 20 years from now.
Lori: Providing the Northwestern is "on the crab" which is more important for a successful season - high standards of performance, or an environment that promotes teamwork?
Sig: Environment that promotes teamwork, definitely, if there's crab in the area.
Kayjayday: Love your boat, love the crew. What happens when you have filled your boat full of crab and you're at the end of your string (only a few pots left), do you pull the last pots and dump the extra crab overboard?
Sig: If the season is still open, we just let the pots sit. If we're racing for closure, we have to race through the pots and empty them. Timing is everything.
Tartanterror: How much fuel do you use in a average king crab season?
Sig: The Northwestern can burn from 600-900 gallons a day. Depending on the length of the season, 10,000 to 30,000 gallons can be used easily.
Iwannafish27: Sig how do you feel about newcomers/greenhorns in the modern day gold rush?
Sig: I'm a little leery with the show. I think a lot of men especially want to prove themselves. We encourage greenhorns; at the same time, I hope they want to do it for the right reasons. Anyone can fish if you have the will and the heart to do it. Fishing isn't only physical. There's also a mental hump to overcome. But there's nothing like fresh meat!
Kccomment: Why is the boat called the Northwestern?
Sig: Back in the 70s when the boat was built, there were so many built that there was a list of names for vessels. To be honest, the name was picked from a list. They were built so fast that the name wasn't as important as getting the boat fishing.
Murphfan03: Hey Sig, do you ever regret picking this as a career?
Dunestorm: I know it takes a strong woman to marry a fisherman, but do they also have a network of extended family, other wives and friends that help and support one another while the men are away?
Sig: In our case, we're fortunate because our wives are from the same fishing town that our parents are from, so their background is fishing. Our wives also have fishing families in their blood, so there's a greater understanding of how and why you're out there. There's a mutual respect.
Trblcmn: We now have Russian king crab sold in the US. Do you have any concerns for the industry or foresee any problems like your price for crab for instance?
Sig: Most of our crab is shipped to Japan, therefore Russian crab supplements the US market. As long as the price is high or favorable on both ends, then the more the merrier.
Tzer: Do you fish for recreation? Would you enjoy a leisurely afternoon of trolling for blue marlin in the calm warm pelagic?
Sig: I tried marlin fishing once in Hawaii. There were 6 of us on the boat. Some damn dentist caught a fish and I didn't, so that took the fun out of it for me. But we do enjoy fishing salmon here in the Puget Sound. I love doing it.
The7thDrunke: What are some of the ways you stay awake when in the wheel house?
Sig: I can stay awake for days on end if I'm excited about every pot that I pull. I've stayed awake for just over 3 days. And yes, you do drop off from time to time but basically coffee, cigarettes, and chocolate is my diet. It works. And being stubborn never hurt either.
Rhoberta: The show has given people a better understanding of the crab fishing industry. Are there aspects of life on boat or the industry itself that you feel were overlooked?
Sig: The industry is delicate and politically we're on edge. The show doesn't touch on a lot of those aspects. I can see that it possibly couldn't - it's too intricate to get into. But I think with the public awareness, eventually that will come around. As far as what we do in our day to day life, I think they portray us quite well.
RANGER2D: Was also wondering what you thought of what Blake did as far as giving away secrets. You all seem like a close knit bunch, but is that a no-no??
Sig: I would say that was cardinal Rule Number One that was broken. If Blake is going to fish with partners, then he needs to gain their trust and their respect. The little I know or from what I've heard, I have to make that assumption. But being new to the game, I suppose we can give a guy a break. Once. And only once!
Trblcmn: I know your price for crab has declined over the years, have you noticed any fluctuation since "Deadliest Catch" started?
Sig: The price of crab has fluctuated due to supply and demand. As far as the notoriety from "Deadliest Catch," it's been nothing but positive. I've been in Boston and Chicago for seafood shows and conventions, and I hear nothing but good things from the buyers and restaurateurs and people on the other end. I think this is a very positive thing. I'm glad it happened.
Cren110: Hey Sig, you are my family's favorite captain. Every time we eat crab we think, "I wonder if this was caught on Sig's boat." How much do you think the biggest crab you have ever caught weighs?
Sig: I've seen over 20 pounders. There are different areas in Alaska that haven't been filmed yet where the king crab are actually larger because they have a larger gene pool. That would be out west on the chain toward Adak, for example. But for the most part, they're big enough for me.
Ttommy farrel: How do you always catch the most crab?
Sig: We've been fortunate the last few years. One thing I've noticed is that if the fleet hear of a hot spot, they tend to huddle together and fish that area the next year. We've been sly in venturing in the opposite direction and finding crab elsewhere. I think a big advantage in doing that is even if there's less crab per pot, there are less pots to compete with. That makes your average better and you can fish in an area longer, hopefully having a better season in the end.
Mr Noodles: When you get back after a long time away at sea, what's the biggest adjustment you have to make being at home?
Sig: Try babysitting five grown men in a manner that probably wouldn't be too acceptable on land. Let's face it - we're not the most eloquent of speakers, and we kind of say things the way they are. And then jumping off a boat and into a family with women - it's a culture shock. I need to tread softly for a few days. And it's tough. I can't treat my family the way I treat my crew, and sometimes I forget that.
I love Blake: How many weeks out of the year are you out on the Bering Sea?
Sig: The Northwestern is diversified. We spend our summers on a salmon charter, we fish cod in September and January or when we can, and we fish crab when the seasons are open. These days, we're busy 5-7 months. And in the past, we've been known to fish 9-11 months of the year. Don't miss those days.
Kansacrab: Hey Sig, how old were you when you first started working on the boat and how old were you when you took over as captain?
Sig: I was 14 when I fished salmon in the summertimes. After salmon season, I would jump on the Northwestern and participate in blue king crab seasons. Or I would fish in Norway if I had a job there. As far as running the boat, I started at the age of 22 and I believe I was the youngest captain at that time. I never took it for granted. Looking back, I'd love to do it again.
Swahili: You are truly the last of the cowboys of red gold. I would like to know if you ever suffered from seasickness?
Sig: Of course. As a teenager I was sick. But you get over it. I can remember being seasick at one time, and we had steak for dinner. I couldn't eat a steak for 2 years after that. But if you want to fish, you get over it.
Sig girl: Hi Sig! You really got a knack for getting on the crab. Do you think that it's in your very nature and instinct that makes you as good as you are? You said in a TV interview that to be a fisherman, it had to be in your head and your heart. Would you attribute both these traits to your skill as a fishermen?
Sig: Absolutely. And because of my heritage, I've always felt I had something to prove beyond most. I think that gives us our drive. I take things a little more to heart that most guys. If I fail, I don't just fail myself; I've failed my family.
Texas: Hi Captain Sig, what is the funniest thing that Edgar has done?
Sig: Besides embarrassing me on Leno? A lot of the things they film at sea are a riot, but Edgar and the gang have quite a bit more to offer on land. To be perfectly honest, if I told you some of the things they've pulled while we were on the beach celebrating, we'd probably end up in jail! But you get the picture
RANGER2D: Sig - LOVE your crew!!! Was wondering how you and your brother REALLY get along on the boat. I thought it was the funniest part of the season when Edgar messed up and he said "Edgar bad."
Sig: When Edgar first got on the boat, I had already advanced to the wheel house, so we never got to work much together on deck and I never gave him a break or any special treatment. So I think we just grew up that way, with this mutual understanding. Now we all know that it's business out there. There isn't any animosity between us, or not much. But we do know what the bottom line is, and for that reason we try to get along. We do have our differences, though.
Renegade: I noticed a link to the 100 Years of Motorcycles Rally on your website. Do you or any of your brothers or crew ride?
Sig: Matt is a motorcycle fanatic. My brothers and I rode dirt bikes as kids. After I started fishing, I shied away from motorcycles. I knew that if I got in an accident my fishing season would be over, so I stopped riding for the same reason I stopped skiing. I valued my job more than my play.
Wi dave: How much money do you have tied up in computers and GPS on the Northwestern? How have things changed over the years?
Sig: Radars can go from $10,000-30,000. GPS and computers are in the thousands. I can't say off the top of my head overall. Things have changed for the better. The electronics are more detailed, and it's easier to run a boat. It also makes it easier when you have crew members on watch because it makes it easier for them to navigate.
Fatman: Before GPS and other electronic devices how did they find the pots?
Sig: Before GPS we used Loran-C. Before Loran-C, they used Loran-A. A lot of times, when you'd fish close to the beach, you'd use radar bearings. You take two points and find your strings in that manner. I had to do that myself, and it's not easy.
A1afla: Hello Captain. Could you tell me how common rogue waves are and what's the largest one you have seen?
Sig: Rogue waves are common, especially during the peak of a storm and after. They're not necessarily big. A rogue wave to me is more of a freight train coming at you, Waves are usually synchronized, and a rogue wave comes with all its power out of the blue. It has a different force behind it. They suck!
Gregg: Are the crab fragile? The deckhands sometime are standing on them to get them in the tank.
Sig: For the most part, no, they're pretty resilient. You need to be careful with the nose on a crab so you don't break it off. If the nose is broken, the crab will bleed to death. And when one dies, the one next to it dies too, and it's a domino effect.
Jazmin22: Have you ever lost a member of your crew? How does a tragedy like the one that happened the first three days of the season affect your mentality?
Sig: We've been fortunate not to lose anyone. As I said before, that's one of our greatest accomplishments. When I hear about a tragedy at sea, it's different for me than it would be for a television viewer. You're hearing it for the first time; I've heard it all my life. Don't get me wrong - accidents like that will always happen, and it's a shame. But just like driving down a highway, things can happen. I think the fleet and their safety standards are as good as they're going to be, and we try to better ourselves every year. And the Coast Guard are a big part of that.
Jclark4929: How do you maintain your edge? Being awake for 30+ hours must take its toll.
Sig: It takes its toll, but the truth is the harder I work, the better I feel. There's a feeling of accomplishment like no other, and that's why I love my job. No one tells me when to start or stop. It's something most people will never experience.
Aanth: Do the crab cages have GPS or some type of radio frequency so that they show up on your captain's screen?
Sig: When the pots are set, depending on your plotter, you can set a string which is just a line, or you can mark them individually. I still like to go old school and write most of the bearings down in a notebook. In case the machinery fails, I have the coordinates.
Buffettfan: Would you ever consider working on deck while Edgar captains the boat?
Sig: Absolutely. I miss the deck when the pots are full. There's nothing like it. Keep watching the show - you may be surprised!
Gingerb71: You guys do such a great job! Thanks for bringing a piece of it to us each week. Can you explain more about partner boats? Do you have partner boats? If so, who are they?
Sig: I don't fish with partner boats so much any more. There are always captains that I speak with, and we may compare information, but not to the extent of others. I've learned over time that my partners can lie to me just as much as I will lie to them. And the bottom line is you're better off finding your own crab. But if we do need help, there's always someone out there that may set you in the right direction.
Jim FLA: Sig, could you briefly explain how the pots are tied/chained down? Thank you.
Sig: The pots are tied with two pot ties. About a 5/8ths tie, 2-3 feet long just to hold them in position on deck. When you stack on top, you do the same. The chains are put on just to stabilize the stack so that it slows the movement down, because the pots do sway back and forth. It's an eerie feeling when you're up there.
Wrangler253: Greetings from NJ. I was wondering if you, you brothers and the rest of your family have any place in particular you like to go on your time off for a vacation.
Sig: We try to go to Norway once a year. Our grandmother is turning 100 this summer, and that is our roots. Other than that, we don't get out too often. We've been to Hawaii and Disneyland and the like, but Norway is our main concern.
Ages: Do you find that the cameras change the dynamics? Does your crew act differently? Does it affect the productivity of the boat?
Sig: No, absolutely not. I think that's why we seem to have come across well. The cameras are there, but we are more concerned about our fishing and that's what they like. And they know better. If they tried to slow us down, they wouldn't be there, I can promise you that!
SideShowJenn: Hi Sig - love love love you and Edgar!!! What kind of effect do you feel global warming is having or will have on the crab fishing industry?
Sig: It's interesting you bring that up. Scientists claim the ocean temperatures are rising, and to a point they have in Alaska. Yet over the last year, we have seen a major bloom in the crab populations. So as far as the ecosystem is concerned, I have a hard time believing so far that there is cause for concern. But I'm a fisherman - I have to think positive.
Bassgal831: Hi Sig, how's the quitting smoking thing going?
Sig: (laughing) Tried it, 3 days. Got hypnotized. Now I know it's stuck for 3 days, and hopefully I can make it the next time. But haven't set the date yet. Maybe for next year's show, I can go head to head with Phil and do a no smoking segment.
Wildheart84: Who is your favorite band?
Sig: I can listen to anything from country to rock. I don't get a lot of music up there. I absolutely will not play music in the wheel house. I think it's dangerous, and I know a lot of captains do it but it's just something I don't believe in. So I'm not around as much music as people might think.
Vitoman: I heard about crab fishing on the Columbia River bar. Where is it most dangerous - Columbia River or the Bering Sea? Thanks Sig.
Sig: You must mean Dungeness crab. I can imagine that's dangerous on the bar because of the currents. So maybe it on a similar scale - smaller vessel, strong currents. All those things play into it.
Dreamer1215: What other jobs do the captains and deck hands do throughout the year other than the crab season?
Sig: For us, we participate in other activities like salmon charters and cod fishing. The 6-7 months a year that we do participate is enough for us, and we're fortunate to have our free time at home. We've earned it.
Rotorboy: How much crab can fit in the holds, with water?
Sig: The Northwestern can pack around 220,000 pounds of opilio.
Esmentek: Sig, what do you look for in an area that would make it a spot you would set pots?
Sig: I determine where I'm going to fish for the next year as soon as my season is finished. So in other words, I'm preplanning my season from what I saw the season prior, and I think about it all year. There are scientific surveys that are done in the summertime. They help in deciding where you may like to start. But for the most part, it's your gut instinct and if you stick to it, seems to me you always come up a winner.
Jane: Which current captain in the fleet do you respect most?
Sig: If I didn't say myself, I wouldn't be a crab fisherman now, would I? Other than that, there are quite a few captains and they're good at what they do. Everyone has good and bad seasons, but there are some that do consistently well. I think they're all good at what they do,
Travisg: On average, what is the price per king crab caught?
Sig: If we're lucky enough to get close to $5 a pound, and a crab is averaging 8 pounds, that's $40 a crab.
Wildheart84: What is the most rewarding part of crab fishing?
Sig: Filling your boat in record time, and when the last pot is pulled and you're on your way in to unload when you can relax and enjoy the ride in.
Waldo: Hi Sig! How has your life changed after participating in "The Deadliest Catch"?
Sig: A lot of opportunities have come up for us. It's pretty flattering, really. At the same time, I think all this notoriety will do wonders for our fleet. And it's amazing to me how people will pick you out of a crowd, anywhere. Usually there's a lot of compliments, so that's a good feeling. Put it this way: I was late one morning trying to fly to Alaska, at the end of the security line. One of the security guards grabbed me, said he needed to speak to me, and ushered me through security. When he got me through, he said, "By the way, you're my favorite captain" and shook my hand and sent me on my way. I've got to admit - it's a pretty good feeling.
SecondMate: I suppose with the release of the series "Deadliest Catch" there are a lot more would-be fishermen on the piers looking for jobs. How many of them get turned away?
Sig: Now that the fleet is down to 70 or 80 boats, it is harder to get a job. One of the police officers in Dutch Harbor told me there were people sleeping in tents, trying to get work. Although one kid I met at the shipyard came up to me and shook my hand, and he thanked me for my advice which he had read on our website. The advice was to get a job with one of the processors in Alaska, thereby being able to make money while you're meeting people in the boats. Then maybe you can get lucky and get a job if they needed a hand, which happened to him. There's always the opportunity; I guess it's just the right place at the right time.
Mikek: if a crab cage was full, how much crab would be in it?
Sig: We fish larger pots than most. We fish 7×8 foot crab pots. When they're full (and it doesn't happen too often) you will have over 1000 opilio crab.
Adam: Sig, when you were approached to have cameramen aboard your ship filming, was there any hesitation on having your time aboard ship documented?
Sig: Absolutely. We did it the first year as kind of a tribute for our family, and I thought that would be it. Things sort of snowballed for us. It is easier now, but it was difficult the first time around, I have to admit that. We're not just representing ourselves; we're representing the Alaska crab fleet.
Trblcmn: Can you explain the deadlines you have with the processor and what happens if you do not make that deadline (the consequences)?
Sig: Under the new rules and regulations, they have played hardball with us. They're trying to get the crab to market quickly for their best price, so we were up against lower prices if the crab weren't delivered when they needed them. That's not how the new system was intended to work. It was supposed to take the race out of fishing to make it safer. I feel like we're still racing.
Eric B: Do you have a website where you sell Northwestern stuff?
Sig: We started a website last year, www.fvnorthwestern.com and it's a lot of fun. We sell all sorts of items, and I get a kick out of it. Check it out - you might get a chuckle or two.
Discovery: Thank you for being here today to answer questions about life aboard the Northwestern! Do you have anything you'd like to add, before we have to close?
Sig: I just think that the show itself and the expectations of the show have exploded. I think it's done more, and it's surpassed anyone's expectations not just for the fishermen in Alaska, but across the country. There's nothing but positive things. I'm glad to be a participant in it, and it's nice to see that fishermen can finally be seen for what they are. For years, we were almost considered a second class citizen, and I think it gives blue collar workers like ourselves the respect we deserve. Thank you.
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