A recent episode of the Discovery Channel series Deadliest Catch could be used as evidence in a criminal case. The crew of the F/V Northwestern is under investigation by the state and they may have unintentionally ratted themselves out on camera.
Burdell makes his first appearance during the fifth episode of season eight. It’s a slow stretch of fishing for the Northwestern, and there’s not much human drama for the cameras to film. Until:
Deckhands: “It’s a [expletive] rat. Rat is in the box.”
As the deckhands corral the terrified rodent into a bucket, Captain Sig Hansen imparts some folk wisdom.
“The Norway rats are good luck on boats.”
The crew decides to hang on to Burdell, whose name is never explained, and then the pots start rolling in full.
Narrator: Captain Sig honed in on the crab once again.
Sig: Hey! Rats are good luck!
Narrator: And his good luck charm gets a stay of execution.
Sig: We’re not going to toss him over the side. I say we release him in Akutan.”
If that segment of reality TV actually does reflect reality, Hansen’s decision to keep the rat could end up costing the Northwestern up to $200,000. Regulations passed in 2007 make harboring rats a class A misdemeanor in Alaska. Releasing them into the wild is definitely illegal. State Troopers are investigating the incident and wouldn’t comment for this story, but if they do prosecute, it would be the first time the rat laws have been applied.
Joe Meehan is a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and something of a rat expert. His reaction to the video:
“Yeah, I thought it was odd. I had never heard that rats could be considered good luck.”
In fact, Meehan says, they’re often distinctively unlucky.
“Rats can chew on wires and communications equipment, they contaminate foods through their feces and urine. There’s just a whole host of problems that rats can cause for humans.”
That’s leaving aside their considerable environmental impacts, like destroying seabird colonies. Many of the Aleutian Islands – including Akutan – already have resident rat populations, but Meehan says new rats could strengthen their genetic pool or introduce new diseases.
“And of course, not all of the islands in the Aleutians already have rats, and so we certainly don’t want to get rats on any new islands.”
People in the rat field also don’t want celebrities giving other fishermen ideas. Rodent eradication is expensive. Getting rid of the vermin on Hawadax — formerly known as Rat Island — cost $2.5 million.
In the end, Burdell never had the opportunity to colonize any islands. A Deadliest Catch web extra suggests he was accidentally tossed off the boat.
Crew: Rat overboard!!
Captain: What it looks like to me, is that he abandoned ship. I think our stowaway just went for a swim!”
Fish and Game’s Meehan says while he’s happy Burdell didn’t get released on Akutan, tossing rats overboard isn’t the preferred method of disposal. Rats are strong swimmers, so trapping or poisoning them is the only way to ensure their demise.