Capt. Keith Colburn talks about latest challenge on Deadliest Catch: Beating the Russians
Competition from Russia plays a huge role in the next season of Deadliest Catch, which returns for an incredible 16th season on Tuesday. Alaskan crabbers like the irascible Capt. Keith Colburn and his brother Monty look for new spots to fish for king crab, but still play beat-the-clock to the market now that the Russians are supposedly playing by the rules and fishing at the same time as the Catch fleet.
Here, Colburn explains how the Russians have flooded the market with substandard crab meat in the past and whether he'd ever hang up his pots for good.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY First off, how is sheltering at home going?
CAPT. KEITH COLBURN: I'm getting through this pretty well. I'm in a pretty good place. Normally, I'm in a really bad place on the Wizard, fishing with my brother who I both love and want to kill. So, this is a cakewalk compared to working with my brother.
Let's talk about the theme this season, competing against the Russians. Wasn't that already a threat? Why is it different this year?
It's different because the Russian fisheries and the government are trying to fix a big problem ... the Russians have been over-harvesting, illegally harvesting, excessively harvesting, and importing crab into the United States for years. That has really hurt our pricing at the dock and at the store. This year they're trying to clean up their act. Whether they do or not, who knows. But in effect, their season is starting a little late. So we're racing the Russians to see who can get their crabs to the market first.
Do the Russians fish in roughly the same area you do?
Well, remember how big Alaska is. It has more shoreline than the rest of the United States combined. It's a gigantic state and the Bering Sea is, well, as [narrator] Mike Rowe would say, 'the vast Bering Sea.' So the United States has the eastern Bering Sea, and the Russians have the western Bering Sea and Kamchatka Peninsula, where they have the same crab. In fact, the red king crab has the scientific name of paralithodes camtschaticus. It's named after the Russian peninsula. So the king crab have been in the entire Bering Sea, both the east where we fish and the west where they fish. We're talking thousands of miles of distance between each other.
How were they breaking the rules?
They are fishing a lot longer in duration. In the United States we don't start our crab fishery until Oct. 15. The Russians usually start in the summer. The reason we don't start until Oct. 15 and the reason why we fish through the winter is because biologically that is when the crab is at its absolute premium. So spring, summer months, the crab mate and they molt. When they molt, they have literally no meat in their shell. They're basically rebuilding after they shed their shell and they've got a soft shell. All their energy goes back into rebuilding and calcifying their shell, which is their armor plating. The meat or infill is greatly reduced until you get into the fall and winter months. Then you open a crab leg and it's full of meat. The Russians have flooded the market with crab that's substandard. I mean, anybody that's got crab down at the store and thought they were going to have a great meal, they crack the shell open and there's only about a half the portion of meat inside. That really sucks for the consumer. When you go buy a pound of American crab, you're getting full infill meat. I'm proud of how we fish, where we fish and when we fish. We're not taking advantage of trying to get crab to market in the summertime when the crab really isn't ready to be harvested.
So if crab meat shows up on the shelves in the summertime, we should assume it's coming from the Russians?
For very consumer out there, check the box. Somewhere there will be a little sign and it's going to be in fine print that says it's a product of Russia or product of the United States. Don't just assume when you go to the store to buy crab that it's Bering Sea king crab or opilio crab from the boats that you see on TV.
Are you and your brother looking for new places to fish this year?
There's a lot of science that goes into trying to figure out where we're going to fish. We don't just go back to an old hotspot or last year's hotspot or a family traditional spot or anything like that. So we plug all the numbers in and temperatures and past surveys. We look for a pattern. So this year we're actually going to try and fish in some places where we've not fished before. We're extending what we're doing for fishing and in king crab especially because last year was a phenomenally warm summer year for water temperatures and the crab tend to go deeper. So we keep pushing further and further and deeper and deeper to try and find crabs.
I talked to Sig Hansen last season about retirement. He said he remains hugely competitive so he wants to stay in it." How long do you plan to stick with this?
It's not only the competition, but the strategy. I mean, we're not fishing, we're on a treasure hunt. Everybody wants to hunt for buried or sunken treasure. It's what we do. So that in itself is really exciting. Braving, battling, and getting through the weather is an adrenaline rush like nobody can imagine. And then at the end of the day, sometimes there's just peace and solitude. I'm at the helm. It's a starry night. It's flat, calm weather. I just feel like me and mother nature are hanging out together and coexisting. We're both being friendly for once with each other and it's a beautiful thing. How could I ever give this up?
Deadliest Catch returns for its 16th season with a two-hour premiere on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on Discovery.