Image Credit: DiscoveryAn emotional hell that was “more stressful than crab fishing”: That’s how the Time Bandit captains who quit Deadliest Catch last week described the ordeal that temporarily threatened the future of Discovery’s most popular franchise. Speaking exclusively to EW from Alaska, Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand explained what led them and Northwestern Captain Sig Hansen to make such a drastic decision.

“It was a lot about our rights to do our own brand,” said Andy Hillstrand, who together with his brother and Hansen, went on a speaking tour in September that supposedly conflicted with production of Hillstranded, a set of specials the brothers shot for the network that’ll air next June. “There was a lot of misunderstanding,” Andy Hillstrand told EW. “We thought Discovery had everything they needed but then they came back and said they needed pickup shots so our schedule was pretty much screwed. It got to the point in our relationship where something had to change and we just said enough’s enough. So we butted heads for a while.”

Hansen handed in his walking papers too because “it was the right thing to do,” he told EW. “We are brothers. I told these guys a long time ago, it’s fishing first. We made a lot of fans. We’ve affected a lot people in positive ways. People like us because we are real and what they see is what they get. All of a sudden, things got a little out of kilter. So what you see is what you get.”

“It kind of made it look like me and Johnathan were doing this and then Sig stood up with us but Sig was with us,” added Andy Hillstrand.

“Emotionally, it was hell,” continued Johnathan Hillstrand. “We didn’t want to be sued. We didn’t want all the fans hating Discovery.” The trio was also told not to discuss their status with the other Deadliest Catch fisherman, who like the Hillstrands and Hansen, were in Alaska’s Dutch Harbor this week preparing to set sail for the show’s seventh season on the night of Oct. 14. Captain Keith Colburn, however, didn’t have much to say about the matter. “I’m going to take the fifth,” he told EW from the deck of The Wizard in Dutch Harbor this week. “There’s enough animosity between the fishermen at times on stuff. I don’t need to generate any more.”

Fortunately for the show’s legion of fans – some of whom fired off angry letters to Discovery – both sides came to an agreement and now the Hillstrands and Hansen are signed for two more years of Catch. The trio can also continue with their speaking tour that took them throughout Canada and the east coast in September.

“We just want our lives back, sort of,” said Johnathan Hillstrand. “But it’s a little too late for that. So we’re sticking around. We are glad to be back and we’re glad that everyone is happier.”

In Hillstranded – which will air after Deadliest Catch debuts in April 2011 – the siblings will investigate myths and legends around Alaska, including a Lochness-type monster in a local lake. “Our personalities have just been silly and kind of different,” said Andy Hillstrand. “We had a lot of fun doing them.”