The Life of a Fisherman, On the Small Screen: Gloucester’s Famous TV Stars

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America’s oldest seaport, Gloucester, Massachusetts is 31 miles north of Boston. Settled in 1623 as an English colony, its charter predates both those of Salem and Boston (1626 and 1630, respectively).

Because it was deemed too rocky to sustain a farming village most early settlers abandoned Gloucester and moved to more fertile grounds nearby. The seaport’s identity as a fishing community was realized in 1713 when the area was reestablished as an important destination for schooner building.

By the late 1800s word of Gloucester’s rocky beauty had sailed well beyond its coastline. A reputation for the salt air and soft light surrounding latitude 43 North drew an eclectic group of painters, writers, and sculptors of significance to the area. Winslow Homer, Rudyard Kipling, and Paul Manship (creator of the Prometheus sculpture at Rockefeller Center) with Isabella Stewart Gardner were a few of the many artists to find inspiration in the village where a vibrant art colony continues to thrive.

This 21st century city additionally boasts of robust economic diversity. It’s the home base of Gorton’s Seafoods, Varian Semiconductor Corporation, and the Ocean Alliance, an ocean-animal research center funded in part by actor Sir Patrick Stewart, Captain of Star Trek‘s intergalactic star-fleet.

The lore of Gloucester’s brine also includes a colony of commercial fishermen. Some of those seafarers are featured on National Geographic’s hit television series Wicked Tuna. New Boston Post caught up with Dave Marciano, captain of the Hard Merchandise, for some behind-the-scenes dish about the show, to discuss why the popular series launches from Gloucester, and most importantly to understand how the endangered bluefin tuna population is protected from over-fishing.

Fifty-three-year-old Marciano ties the voyage of Wicked Tuna to the appeal of the film The Perfect Storm. The movie, released in 2000, stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Diane Lane and tells the non-fictional tale of the Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing rig out of Gloucester, and her crew of six who were lost at sea in October 1991.  Remembering the dramatic land and sea scapes of the area, a producer of the film developed a television project to snapshot the present-day lives of commercial fishermen and the dramatic scenery that surrounds them.  

Charting his unlikely course from tuna captain to television celeb, Marciano said that about eight years ago Pilgrim Productions, a partner of National Geographic, set up a 10-day casting-camp at Gloucester’s Cape Ann Marina. On the hunt for characters, producers frequently heard “you should talk to Marciano.”  The tuna captain with the wicked Boston accent explained he wasn’t interesting in trying out for a TV adventure show because he was busy trying to make a living. Assured the TV gig would include a supplemental paycheck, Marciano agreed to make a 45-minute demo-reel of real life on one of the smallest, slowest, and oldest commercial tuna boats around, the Hard Merchandise.

Seven seasons later Wicked Tuna is celebrating its 100th episode of fishing for the biggest bluefin paycheck, on Sunday, June 24. Originally hoping to capture the imagination of anglers 25 to 45 years years old, Tuna reeled in a wider audience than anticipated.  Marciano credits the show’s physically and emotionally competitive spirit for landing male and female followers of all ages.

As this season concludes, crews of the Fish HawkFV Tuna.comHot TunaPinwheel, and Wicked Pissah compete against the Hard Merchandise to harpoon “just a few more blues” before the lucrative, legal North Atlantic fishing season ends (around the first week of July).

The, a rival of Captain Dave Marciano’s Hard Merchandise, sits at dock in Gloucester. Photo by Diane Kilgore for New Boston Post.

Capturing the highlights and hardships of working fishermen and their communities, the series reaches and teaches beyond Gloucester. It also serves as a source of information about an evolving industry that is heavily regulated in recognition of its importance to our national and global wellbeing.

In 1976 President Gerald Ford signed a bill passed by Congress to promote optimal exploitation of U.S. coastal fisheries, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Federal policies under the act are amended annually to establish sustainability quotas based on scientific research and to avoid overfishing.

Explaining the Act in practical terms, Marciano said “overfishing” is a controversial, often emotionalized phrase.  He said quotas are calculated annually by scientists using an equation that factors in the total number of live fish in a species, their natural rate of birth and mortality, and the ratio of predator to prey. Once the bio-mass has been determined, the quota is set:  in general, allowing fishermen to catch 20% of the estimated species population is considered sustainable fishing. If at the end of the legal fishing season the combined catch of all crews exceeds 20% of the allotment then the next year the total catch will be reduced accordingly. (As an example, Marciano said, if the State Piers record this year’s bluefin catch as 21% of their population than next year’s fishing quota will be reduced by 1%.)

Unlike trollers, bluefin fisherman use a reel and harpoon, catching one fish at a time. Once on board the highly perishable tuna is iced on its way to be weighed and sold at port as quickly as possible. Cruising from port to port to negotiate a sale price wastes gas and risks decomposition of the prized fish. Marciano said in the fishing culture trust is a must.

Captain Dave Marciano wasn’t born into the life of a fisherman. His father was an insurance man. But like many of the fisherman on Wicked Tuna he grew up loving the sea, and early on he knew he wanted to spend his life fishing. He worked on a charter fleet of whale watching and deep sea fishing expeditions until he bought his own boat. Today, the crew of the Hard Merchandise includes his daughter Angelica, son Joe, and nephew Jason.

When Wicked Tuna isn’t in production Dave and his wife Nancy fish together as opportunities present themselves. They’ve fished across Europe and will soon be teaching inner city kids of LA how learning to fish can lead to an unexpectedly Wicked adventurous life.

Gloucester’s gas dock, state fish pier, and famous Fisherman’s Memorial (dedicated in 1923) all reflect the fishing life of the community. Photos by Diane Kilgore for New Boston Post.