ROCKPORT — They fish for different crustaceans on different oceans 4,000 miles apart, but the lobstermen of Maine and Captain Keith Colburn of the reality television show “Deadliest Catch” clearly have a lot in common.
Colburn, who made friends with some lobstermen while biking down the Maine coast last summer, talked and answered questions for more than three hours Thursday afternoon during the opening day of the annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.
More than 100 lobstermen, lobstermen’s spouses and others listened intently to Colburn, who fishes for Alaskan king crab in the stormy waters of the Bering Sea while at the helm of the 155-foot fishing vessel Wizard.
While dramatic storm rescue footage from the television show played silently on a screen behind him, he talked about the dangers of fishing off the coast of Alaska, how climate change is affecting the fishery, the importance of fishing sustainably, about the finer points of crab fishery regulation and more. But the audience listened especially closely when Colburn, known on the show for his fiery temper and yelling at his brother, shared some realities of reality TV.
“They’ve been talking about doing a show on the East Coast lobster fishery,” one Maine lobsterman asked. “Do you have any input at all at what goes on the show?”
“I have zero input,” Colburn replied. “They’re making television. It’s real what they’re filming. It’s real when I yell at my brother … but they go overboard at times. They’re going to be like vultures whenever they see a gear conflict, or a couple of guys getting loud on the radio. For some reason, that seems to sell more potato chips.”
He said that television producers will seek out fishing families to film, because brothers, sons and fathers are more likely to fight with each other. A great catch and no conflict doesn’t make for good television, Colburn said, wishing the Maine lobstermen good luck with their own reality show experiences.
“It will create animosity among the fishermen who aren’t on the show,” he said. “But it’s also going to create positives. It has ultimately, for us in the Bering Sea, helped get a better price for our product.”
Colburn told the crowd that when he met fishermen while on his Maine bicycling trip last summer, he was shocked at the low price they were getting for lobsters. He also found that the different fishing communities here are “fractured,” which might be an impediment to marketing and selling their catch.
“A fisherman from Boothbay is certainly not going to agree with some lunatic from Bar Harbor,” he joked. “You only get what you work for. Advocating together as a group seemed to work best in the Bering Sea, anyway.”
Colburn also met Port Clyde lobsterman Gerry Cushman last summer, and the two became friendly. The captain from Alaska had the chance to go lobstering with Gerry’s brother, Randy Cushman, and then ate lobsters and talked to lots of people from Port Clyde about the show and about the northwest coast fishery. After that, Gerry Cushman asked Colburn to attend the Maine forum, where he will be all weekend.
Some of the fishermen present wanted to know how hard it is to get on a crab fishing boat in Alaska, and Colburn said that with only 60 boats in the fleet and little turnover, it’s not always very simple. He advised wannabe “greenhorns” to go out there and establish themselves as hard, willing workers in the less-lucrative fisheries first. He also told the Mainers that they should be proud to be involved in a trap fishery.
“I’m proud to be a pot fisherman,” he said. “Our bycatch rates are nominal at best. I know as a fisherman, I’m not impacting other fisheries.”
Despite the many similarities among the fishermen, Colburn drew laughs when he sometimes struggled to understand lobstermen who asked him questions with thick Maine accents and local slang. When Tad Miller of Tenant’s Harbor asked him if the crabbers have escape vents in their pots, he was stymied.
“Somebody translate for me?” he asked, adding eventually that the answer was yes.
At least one person in the room had no connection to Maine fishing but came because her son is a big fan of “Deadliest Catch.”
“I stayed for almost two hours because I found it very interesting,” said Jean Fahey of Claremont, N.H., who was vacationing at the Samoset.
David Cousens, the president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said after Colburn’s question-and-answer session that he found the information about the West Coast fishery fascinating.
“There’s a lot that’s very similar [with lobstering],” he said. “And it’s interesting to hear the real story and not just what you see on TV.”