First of all, “Wicked Tuna” is not a show about the flaky white fish you buy in cans at the grocery store. The new series, which premieres Sunday, April 1, on the National Geographic Channel, is actually a look into the fiercely competitive world of bluefin tuna fishing. Unlike most reality TV, though, it’s a show that could actually be worth your time.
Bluefin tuna, not to be confused with their smaller cousins albacore, can weigh as much as 1,500 pounds, and they are one of the most highly sought after fish for Japanese sushi. A single bluefin can sell for up to $20,000.
Unfortunately, Atlantic bluefin populations have been almost wiped out in the last 60 years by overfishing. As viewers might expect of the National Geographic Channel, “Wicked Tuna” is a show with a purpose beyond just entertainment. Along with providing an unprecedented insight into one of America’s oldest industries, “Wicked Tuna” promotes awareness about sustainable fishing practices. It also addresses some of the global conservation efforts that could save both the fish and the fishermen who depend on them for their livelihoods.
Together with the focus on viewer education, “Wicked Tuna” is also a surprisingly engrossing reality show. The cameras follow four different fishing crews (although only three are featured in the first episode) out of America’s oldest port in Gloucester, Mass. Where a single fish can make the difference between providing for a family and bankruptcy, the competition gets pretty intense. Even in the first episode, viewers get to experience some of the adrenaline rush of hooking a bluefin, but also the huge disappointment when it gets away.
“Wicked Tuna” benefits a lot, though, by having an engaging cast of characters. From the husband-and-wife team of Bill and Donna Monte, the old lions who have been fishing for 30-plus years, to the three-man crew of a boat called Tuna.com, there is no shortage of personality — or the drama that goes with it. Tuna.com’s captain, “Sneaky Dave,” is already shaping up to be the guy everybody loves to hate.
Parents should be aware that the series, which gives an honest look at a difficult lifestyle unfamiliar to many Americans, does involve some mildly vulgar language and a fair amount of cursing, mostly censored for TV.
The language does not detract, however, from the educational value of “Wicked Tuna." Like similar reality series such as “Deadliest Catch” and “Whale Wars” (on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, respectively), “Wicked Tuna” promotes an appreciation of the natural environment, including a basic awareness of where our food comes from. At the same time, it sheds light on a fascinating subgroup of the American working class. For parents, a show like “Wicked Tuna” could provide a number of interesting talking points for conversations with their children.
National Geographic has more information on the fishing crews featured in the show (including a primer in New England fisherman slang), conservation efforts and even a 45-minute streaming documentary about the bluefin tuna available on the series website at natgeotv.com/wickedtuna.
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.