“Wicked Tuna” is a reality television show on the National Geographic Channel that documents the competitive New England-based commercial bluefin tuna industry. It’s also a story of the hard-core East Coast fishermen who make their living off the giant tuna — fishermen who live for the sport.
Count local fishermen Bruce Hebert of East Waterboro and his brother Capt. Paul Hebert of Gloucester, Mass., among them. The siblings are making waves on “Wicked Tuna.” Fifty-six-year-old Bruce is the first mate on the fishing boat Lisa & Jake, working right alongside his 48-year-old brother, Paul. Both men know what they are doing out on the ocean, having spent most of their lives tuna fishing. Born into a multigenerational commercial fishing family along with four other brothers, the Heberts were taught the trade of bluefin tuna fishing as adolescents.
“We grew up tuna fishing — it would be our only source of income in the summer. In the winters we’d go cod or bass fishing,” Paul Hebert said.
Brother Bruce said he caught his first giant tuna when he was about 11 years old.
“I can remember wanting to skip school every September because that’s when tuna fishing is best in New England,” said Bruce.
Their lifestyle and combined experience made them perfect candidates for the show, though the men did not see this opportunity coming.
“Dave Carraro, who has been a friend of mine for many years, received a call to join [‘Wicked Tuna’] as one of the captains,” Paul said, “and he encouraged me to come down to be interviewed.”
Bruce continued, “They were interviewing tuna fisherman from all over the East Coast for the show. First they interviewed my brother [Paul] for all of two minutes. Immediately they asked if he had any brothers, then they interviewed me and offered me a place on the show right there on the spot.”
Paul originally started out on the show [without Bruce] on Season 1 as the first mate on the now-rival fishing boat Tuna.com. Tension between Paul and Tuna.com Capt. Dave Carraro ultimately led to Paul being let go. Though they didn’t know it at the time, this turned out to be an opportunity in disguise for both Paul and Bruce.
“With five weeks left in the season, I received a phone call from my brother Paul with an offer to fish with him for the show ‘Wicked Tuna’ on a different F/V [fishing vessel] Lisa & Jake.” Bruce said.
And the rest is history.
The cutthroat competition between the captains on the show is not only expected — it fuels the adrenalin and makes for good drama. It also creates comedic moments in the otherwise tough and dangerous occupation of commercial tuna fishing. Paul shared one humorous scenario that was filmed but didn’t make an episode.
“On one trip, we had a life-size cardboard cutout of Dave Carraro that we took out to Georges Bank with us as a joke, like he was an extra passenger. We ran into the F/V tuna.com out there, and we had the cutout posed like he was driving our boat. It was hilarious, Dave’s mates were laughing their faces off,” Paul said.
“Wicked Tuna,” is based in Gloucester, Mass., one of the oldest seaports in New England. It premiered on television last April and was an immediate hit. The show’s widespread success is attributed to the action out at sea and the thrill of the catch during the high-stakes yet short tuna fishing season. A single prime tuna fish can fetch in $10,000 to $20,000, so the competition is always fierce.
The Hebert brothers say they wouldn’t have it any other way. They love the competition and the impact “Wicked Tuna” has had on their lives. The notoriety has affected the men in different ways, though they both say that their extended family has grown closer because of it.
“It’s a lot faster now,” said Paul, father of one. “My life used to be very laid back, now I’m really busy. I get to meet lots of different people, and all the attention has been very flattering. We have lots of kids that come up to us, telling us they love the show. It’s the coolest thing ever.”
Bruce, who is married and has five children and five grandchildren, said life hasn’t changed much for him. But his winters are now much busier.
“There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work, promotional events, etc.,” he said. “The way I look at it, this is adding a new chapter to my life.”
This new chapter looks to be fulfilling and promising to the Heberts, as they both plan to take it as it comes on “Wicked Tuna.”
“I’ll work with the show for as long as the fans around the world keep loving it. Right now they are all very excited about it,” said Bruce. “There are lots of people that never even knew that these giants existed in our oceans.”
Bruce also intends to keep his business, Libreti Rose Fishing Charters, which operates out of the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, active.
Paul said his future is all about the hunt for fish and leading the tuna competition on the show.
“I plan to catch as many tunas as possible. Last season, I joined the fleet as a captain with only five weeks left in the season. This year, I’ll be fishing right alongside the other boats from the beginning — giving them a run for their money.”
To catch the Hebert brothers in action, tune in to Season 3 of “Wicked Tuna.” For information on the show, visit http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/wicked-tuna/.