By Catherine Kozak on August 16, 2014
In what was likely the first time a bitter feud over fisheries quotas has been transformed into swaggering entertainment, a sneak preview Thursday of Wicked Tuna: North Vs. South was met with raucous whooping and cheers at a standing-room only gala at Pirate’s Cove.
The spinoff of the National Geographic Channel’s Wicked Tuna series was shot last winter off Hatteras and Oregon Inlet featuring Outer Banks fishermen battling “invading” Yankee watermen — who had a rough season up north — for the notoriously limited bluefin tuna quota.
The valuable bluefin is strictly regulated, but North Carolina watermen have complained for years that the allotted quota favors the northern fishermen who pursue them earlier in the year.
“They made it a geographical quota,” Greg Mayer, one of the show’s Southern captains, said before the presentation. “Basically, in North Carolina, we are screwed. It’s wrong.”
A large bluefin, prized for sushi, can be worth $10,000 or more.
Hundreds of local residents and public officials mingled over drinks and food at the marina before the big screen lit up with familiar scenes of fishing boats and sunrise over sparkling water. Many folks in the crowd were also in town for the Pirates Cove Big Game Tournament.
Then a male voiceover, with an exaggerated gravitas, immediately stoked the rival fires, to the delight of the audience.
“It’s a clash of cultures . . . an all-out competition,” the voice boomed. “With their livelihoods at stake, this war will be anything but civil.”
Soon, close-ups of local fishermen filled the screen: Reed Meredith, captain of the Wahoo, and his brother Banks, the first mate; Britton Shackelford, captain of the Doghouse — shown both bearded and smooth-shaven — and his mate Caine Livesay; Mayer, captain of the Fishin’ Frenzy, and his mate Nick Gowitzka.
Scary music accompanied the first appearance of a northern vessel, the Hot Tuna, captained by wild-haired and bearded T.J Ott, who could slap a patch over his eye and look just like a pirate.
Then over the horizon came the Hard Merchandise, captained by tough-talker Dave Marciano.
“The bottom line is,” he tells the camera, “I’ve got 15 grand tied up in this operation and (we’re) going to get our share, whether they like it or not.”
“It’s a Yankee invasion!” Banks Meredith exclaimed in response.
The contrast of the sharp-edged Boston accents with the Southern drawls of the two sides helped distinguish the competitors, who all shouted and cursed and harpooned and reeled and laughed with impressive vigor.
Before and after the nearly hour-long presentation, a steady stream of people came up to the men, now apparent celebrities. At times appearing slightly stunned, they graciously signed numerous autographs and patiently posed for photographs.
Only one Gloucester fishermen, Paul Hebert, was able to attend the screening.
Like many of his Outer Banks cohorts, Hebert, the youngest of six boys, is a member of a multi-generational fishing family.
“I’ve been doing it my whole life,” he said. “I caught my first bluefin tuna when I was 8 years old.”
Not only was his 76-year-old father a legendary fisherman, he said his mother also fished. Pulling out his cell phone, he showed an old photograph of his mother standing beside a 782-pound tuna she had caught.
Hebert, who is co-captaining the Pin Wheel with Captain Tyler McLaughlin, doesn’t make an appearance until the end of the first show, when he is shown with a big smile, cackling: “The Yanks are coming!”
Although he would not go into detail when asked how his boat did, Hebert volunteered that they did “very, very good.”
Yes, and so did the Outer Bankers, Banks Meredith hinted. “Well, we represented the South very well,” he said. “Fishermen out of here are world class.”
Whatever competition the fishermen have is in large part the nature of fishing, they agreed.
“We’re after the same fish,” Hebert said.
“Every boat that’s out there is fishing against me –against us,” Mayer said.
But Shackelford said that the resentment toward the Yankees – which is how the North Carolina tuna fishermen at countless fisheries meetings have referred to their northern counterparts – is based on the way the fisheries regulators have divvied up the quota for the last 20 years or so.
As a migratory species with a vast range, bluefin tuna is managed by different international, national, regional and state panels. Consequently, the quota for the very valuable fish has become mired in politics and controversy.
But Southern watermen have urged fisheries managers to allow them to fish bluefin for longer periods in the winter so they have more opportunity to claim their fair share of quota. The way it is now, they contend, the northern watermen have more time to catch more fish before the tuna head south.
“That’s where management makes a rivalry between us,” Shackelford said. “If they catch a fish today, it’s fish I may not get. It’s a very intense rivalry.”
Wicked Tuna: North vs. South, premiering Sunday, Aug. 17, at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. The new series will air internationally on National Geographic Channel in 170 countries and 45 languages beginning this fall.
For more information, visit www.natgeotv.com/wickedtuna.