Hardliners [Dave] (also known as Hooked on Danger in some territories) is a low-budget series about Australian long-line fishermen. In keeping with all these shows the dangers of commercial fishing are stressed at length and we are told repeatedly that long-line fishing is one of Australia’s most dangerous jobs. There are some good scenes (such as when a twister is closing in on one of the boats) and seeing the workings of the crew is interesting, but shamefully, there is no mention of the vulnerable status of the world’s tuna stocks, and no mention is made of the horrific bycatch associated with long-lining. The production values on Hardliners are much lower than Deadliest Catch and the shows sometimes seem strangely edited together – things that are previewed at the start of the show do not actually happen in the programme itself. The low production values are also apparent at times: helicopter shots of the boats – common in Deadliest Catch and Trawlermen – are non-existent. Worth watching but certainly not one of the best fishing programmes on TV.
Swords: Life on the Line [Discovery USA] is another programme about long-line fishing which focuses on fishermen (and women) targeting swordfish off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, Canada. The fishing vessels go out for 40-50 day spells where they lay 20km long-lines with the hope of catching swordfish (which can be up to 300lb), or bigeye tuna which are actually more valuable. Swords: Life on the Line follows a similar format to Deadliest Catch and has similarly high production values: the danger the fishermen face is highlighted in detail, and the tensions between crew members are also covered. There is little mentioned of the environmental impact of long-lining, although to be fair the swordfish which are the main species they target are not endangered in the Grand Banks area, although they are on Greenpeace’s redlist, and the bycatch from long-lining can be horrific. Despite this Swords: Life on the Line is an interesting and well-made programme, like Deadliest Catch it benefits from the generous budgets and high production values of American TV series.
The Fisherman’s Apprentice [BBC] is a series in which Monty Halls (not to be confused with 90-year old Canadian TV host Monty Hall) looks at the challenges facing the small, traditional inshore fishing community of Cadgwith, Cornwall. Halls works with the fishermen and is told he has to earn their respect (which he eventually does). The programme contrast the small inshore fishery with large scale commercial fishing when Halls goes out on a beam trawler. Here fishing shows collide as it is the Billy Rowney skippered by Steve Moseley (a vessel and skipper which featured on Trawler Wars) that Halls goes fishing with. The impact of large scale fishing is tackled head on, and it is nice to see this issue getting prime time coverage on TV, although some commercial fishermen have complained that itpresents trawlermen in a bad light while being over-the-top in their praise of the inshore fishermen. Overall, The Fisherman’s Apprentice is a very interesting programme that will appeal to anyone interested in any kind of sea fishing. Although the ‘fishing as part of the community clichés’ are laid on thick this series is extremely informative, and the range of sea fishing topics the series covers, and the balance it applies when discussing them, is impressive. The BBC deserved credit for putting out a show that tackles the issues of overfishing, sustainability and the environmental damage of trawling at peak time as the original run was at 8pm on Wednesday nights.
Trawlermen’s Lives [ITV] was a one-off show which aired in Summer 2014 on ITV. In this show adventurer and TV presented Ben Fogle ventured out to sea on three different types of commercial fishing vessel which work out of Scottish ports. The first was a large bottom trawler which worked with a sister vessels to pair trawl for cod and other bottom dwelling species, the second was a prawn trawler and the third was a solo fishermen setting pots and traps for crabs and lobsters. From the start of this programme the tone towards the commercial fishing industry is deeply reverential with the danger of commercial fishing stressed and, as is usual with these types of programmes the history, tradition and romance of commercial fishing is highlighted numerous times. While it is interesting to see the various types of commercial fishing being carried out there is absolutely no mention of declining fish stocks, sustainable fishing, the damage repeated trawling does to the marine environment or any other negative aspect of the commercial fishing industry. Although the programme makes numerous references to the fact that the commercial fishing industry has shrank dramatically in recent years (we are told that we have went from having 100,000 fishermen one hundred years ago to less than 12,000 now) there is not a single mention that this has been caused by the decline of fish stocks due to intensive overfishing and complete mismanagement of stocks. Indeed, at one point in the show Fogle’s conversation with the skipper of a prawn trawler implies that it is fishermen being attracted to work in the oil industry that has seen the fishing industry contract dramatically – not the reduction of fish stocks meaning there is simply less to catch. Indeed, the programme has the clear intention to raise the status of commercial fishermen to heroes who deserved nothing other than utmost praise and respect from the general public. Scenes of huge nets bursting full of cod being hauled up from the depths are celebrated as a cash windfall for the fishermen and filling dinner plates for people back home, again without a single mention of the sustainability of such fishing operations. It is a shame that a prime time programme such as this (it aired at 8pm on a Wednesday night) failed to raise the important issues over stocks and overfishing which everyone (including commercial fishermen) need to face, and instead we saw an hour long promotion for the commercial fishing industry.
Hillbilly Handfishin’ [Animal Planet] With the exception of the low-budget Hardliners, most of the programmes reviewed on this page are high-quality, entertaining shows. However, all of that changes with Hillbilly Handfishin’ – a truly bizarre reality-style programme where self-proclaimed ‘hillbillies’ teach ‘normal’ people (who we are presumably meant to view as non-hillbillies) how to ‘noodle’ – catch catfish using nothing more than their bare hands in a similar way to ‘trout tickling’. While this is vaguely interesting to see once it is more suited to a short (i.e. ten minute) segment in a different show and such a strange activity cannot sustain twelve 60-minute episodes. When people say the world has ran out of ideas for TV shows Hillbilly Handfishin’ provides definitive proof that this is true.