Dave Marciano was a commercial fisherman before he was on National Geographic’s Wicked Tuna but like many fishermen, he had to change his business model when new rules and regulations changed the fishery. This is not uncommon whether it’s groundfish or lobster or scallops or shrimp -- or Maine or Alaska or California or Florida. Every time something changes in the way a fishery is managed,* it impacts a fisherman for better or worse. In my humble opinion, the social, cultural, and psychological impacts that can have a ripple effect throughout a fishing community because of changes to a way a fisherman can fish (or not fish) is not effectively prioritized and perpetuates opportunity to degrade a fisherman’s role in the fishery and the food system.
Dave does not come from a fishing family but caught the bug early on, “I had a passion for fishing when I was kid—with a bobber and a minnow down on the pond.” He said he always “oriented towards the water” and worked on charter boats in high school and ran groundfish boats for a decade-or-so. Life happened and he got married and had kids, but he eventually saved up to buy his own boat and go groundfishing. He expressed a disappointment because he feels like kids today won’t get the same chance, “That’s the hard part of fisheries these days, there [aren’t] enough opportunities [to pursue a fishing career] simply from a boy having a passion to fish.” He’s not wrong, and it’s especially true if you do not come from a fishing family. The cost of going fishing, and getting into the fishing industry is so expensive, Dave points out, “Right now if you’ve got the money to get into fishing, you don’t need to go fishing for a living.”
You’ll often see his kids fishing with him on Wicked Tuna and he doesn’t sugar coat that a large part of why they are on the boat is because of the show. But he also adds how valuable the opportunities are that the show revealed for him and his family. He recently bought a new boat, F/V Falcon that you can see on the show, and now Dave operates that boat and his son, who has had his captain’s license since high school, operates F/V Hard Merchandise. They mainly operate their charter boat business, which of the course the show has benefited, or as Dave puts it, they are “riding the show wave.” When I asked Dave if he was OK that his son was also in the fishing business he said, “I’d be perfectly fine if he followed in my footsteps.”
Dave describes his TV stardom as “something that just fell in [his] lap,” but he seems pretty happy with the way things have worked out because it has provided him with an opportunity to expand his business and create a chance for his kids to fish and work with him. He also is aware that the show helps put a face to fishing and gives viewers an idea of what fishermen see when they are out on the water. He says people are always so surprised at what they see when they are out fishing with him because it is so different than what they expected. He says, especially when it comes to tuna, “The picture [consumers] have in their head is factory trawlers and dead dolphins.” He also says people are often surprised to see so much cod when they charter a trip, to which Dave always sarcastically tells them, “There ain’t no cod out there. Don’t you read the newspaper?”
To me, though, that just illustrates how poorly we explain fishing and seafood to consumers. I’ve heard of consumers avoiding local cod at the market because they think there isn’t any and therefore fishermen shouldn’t be landing it, and so if they avoid it, they are being helpful. But that’s the worst thing they can be doing. If there is local product available at the market, buy it. For better or worse, fishery management regulates what and how much fishermen can harvest and if they can land it, we should be buying and eating it all up. But because people see such dire and severe headlines about fish and seafood, they continue to assume the worst and rely on generalized seafood guides that can be misleading and damaging. Dave and I agree, just ask for wild-caught local product.
And, admittedly, that’s a tough pill for Dave to swallow. He is very vocal about his displeasure for the way in which the groundfish industry is regulated right now. He says, “I promote demand wherever possible and it’s hard for me because I am promoting sectors, but they are still fishermen and I advocate for people to demand to ask for U.S. wild harvest wherever their location is.”
Dave recognizes that he got lucky and that he has been in the right place at the right time both in his ability to buy into the groundfish industry many years ago and the opportunity to star on Wicked Tuna. If things were like they are now back when he was starting out though, we may not be watching the same show today, or as Dave says, “Back in the time if I was sitting on a million dollars I certainly wouldn’t have been freaking blowing it on a fucking fishing boat.”
* You can read more about Fisheries Management HERE.