A Guide to the Wild Amount of Drama That Has Sprung From Deadliest Catch

Arrests, drugs and untimely deaths have affected the long-running reality show about the dangerous business of deep-sea crab fishing

By Natalie Finn Oct 24, 2019 9:24 PMTags
Deadliest CatchDiscovery

It makes sense that a show about the dangerous-as-hell business of deep-sea crab fishing would provide for some of the most fraught moments reality TV has ever had to offer.

These fishermen put their lives at risk every time they head out to mine the depths of the ocean for Alaskan king crab and other crustacean delicacies that consumers get to enjoy thanks to their blood, sweat and, more often than you might think, tears.

In turn, Deadliest Catch has won 16 Emmys, including two for Best Unstructured Reality Program (a rare assignation if there ever was one), spawned books and video games, and remains a must-watch for millions after 14 years on Discovery Channel.

But perhaps because of the very nature of the job at hand, the drama over 15 seasons hasn't been confined to the adventures unfolding at sea.

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The most striking tragedy to afflict the show came five years in when Phil Harris, the tough, gruff and entertaining captain of the Cornelia Marie—one of several crabbing boats at the center of the action—suffered a stroke.

He was hospitalized and visits from his devoted crew, flock of buddies, and sons Jake and Josh—much of it captured for the show, as Harris wanted—had audiences weeping, as well as drew the interest of people who had never watched Deadliest Catch before but were hearing about this heartrending upheaval taking place in the world of these rugged fishermen.

Harris, who was only 53, died on Feb. 10, 2010, and the season that chronicled this sad turn of events premiered that April.


"Death is not uncommon in our industry," Josh Harris told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. "He always taught us to deal with that possibility."

"We're not characters, we're real people," added Time Bandit co-captain Johnathan Hillstrand. "Phil was an easy guy to love—he was always the coolest guy in the building—honest, hardworking, old-school handshake kind of guy. I really loved him."

Producers and the network considered it their duty to honor Harris in a fitting way, and they felt they achieved that with how season six unfolded.

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"We obviously weren't going to show anything that was distasteful," executive producer Thom Beers told Entertainment Weekly after the episode in which Harris died aired. "We were treading on really thin ice. Of course I had the shots of someone yelling 'clear' and getting the paddles out, but why would I show that? The whole point of it was to show that point-of-view of a family member at home who would get the call. That's the way we all live. That's how we find out how our fathers have died or passed away."

Beers continued, "The whole idea was to make it totally accessible to everyone who experienced a family member's passing. It was the rawest, barest form of filmmaking we have ever done. I pulled away, there was no music, no sound effects. I stayed with shots longer. When you are in those moments, everything slows down. I wanted to give it that same sense. Those pure simple moments of a man on his death bed telling his son he was sorry he wasn't a great dad and his son telling him he was the greatest dad in the world."


And then it was "back to fishing," Beers said. "We had a traumatic loss this season with Capt. Phil, but I think the lesson in the last episode is that we all go on. We carry that loss with us, but we still have to go back to work."

At the same time, Jake Anderson, a crew member on Sig Hansen's Northwestern, was dealing with the disappearance of his father, Keith—a man who they said never spent a night away from his wife in 43 years of marriage—in January 2010. His phone was discovered in a mud puddle near their house.

Two weeks after his family reported him missing, Keith Anderson's truck was found parked in a remote area in Skagit County, Washington.

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The trail ran cold, leaving Jake Anderson (who had also been at sea in 2009 when he found out his 37-year-old sister Chelsea had died due to complications of pneumonia) with no closure, as well as a bit of jealousy that Jake and Josh Harris at least were able to say goodbye to their father, as heavy as their loss was. He also wondered if something more sinister had happened to his dad, saying that the keys found in Keith's truck had blood on them.

"I just want to know what happened to my dad," Anderson said in 2010, per Perez Hilton. "I want to bring my father home. He wouldn't give up on us, and I'm not going to give up on him. I just don't know what to do. We need help, and I hope that someone out there will help give us some sort of closure."

Anderson also said, "My relationship with my dad has always been good. He is the one who taught me how to work hard and earn everything. He has always taken good care of my mom and all the kids. He was a real family man. I miss him and want to know what happened."

In June 2012, a hiker found human bones that turned out to be Keith's.

In the meantime, Jake Anderson had been sober since 2009 after battling substance abuse issues that started when he began taking pills after a skateboarding injury and ultimately devolved into meth use and heavy drinking.

In his 2014 memoir Relapse, he opened way up about the low points in his life and credited being clean—along with faith, family and his intense, demanding job—with his ability to get through the loss of his sister and father.

"I don't have every emotion in my body running off negativity," Anderson explained to the Skagit Valley Herald at the time. "Since I was sober I had the power of choice."


Jake Harris, on the other hand, continued to struggle in the wake of father Phil's death.

He was arrested on DUI and hit-and-run charges in Shoreline, Wash., less than two weeks after Phil died and various issues led to him leaving Deadliest Catch in 2013.

"He's lost in drugs still," Josh, the elder Harris brother, said in the season nine premiere, which was noticeably missing Jake. "Jake's gotta take care of his own stuff right now. Deal with his demons."

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Meanwhile, Derrick Ray, who took over as relief captain of the Cornelia Marie, left the show in 2011 and had nothing nice to say about either Harris brother.

Talking about a point where he accused Jake of using drugs on the boat, Ray told the Oregonian in March 2011, "He was smoking dope in Dutch Harbor when we were shooting scenes prior to his father's funeral. There was a scene at night shot through the wheelhouse window and I was looking at charts and he was stoned to bejesus. I sat and had dinner with him and watched him drool on himself. He was filmed smoking dope on the boat."

That purported footage didn't air on the show, but, Ray explained, "The Coast Guard has a zero-tolerance policy. Having drugs on the boat is against the law. I have a captain's license. I could lose my captain's license. There's footage of it and I knew he was smoking dope, and I was trying to get him to stop."

Ray further concluded that neither Harris brother really wanted to carry on the family business, and they only owned a portion of the boat anyway.

"They didn't want to be there," he said. "They're not fishermen, neither one of them...They want to make TV. Josh is not a fisherman and never will be. I think he grew up with Velcro on his shoes, because he couldn't tie a fishing knot if you held a gun to his head."

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On After the Catch a few months later, the brothers confronted Ray face to face.

"You know what, we did work hard, and we did work for you as a captain," Josh told him.

"Did y'all ever own a crab boat before your dad did?" Ray replied.

"I'm learning!" Josh said. "And you told me to ask, [saying] no question was a stupid question. I ask you one f--king question the whole season, you shut me down, you make me feel like s--t, then you proceed to start fights with ever f--king crew member on that boat. It was not your boat to begin with, and you knew that."

Josh became captain of the Cornelia Marie in 2015 and remains on Deadliest Catch.

Rick Gershon/Discovery Channel

Meanwhile, that same year Ramblin' Rose captain Elliott Neese left the show, later tweeting, "To everyone yea I had issues but went to passages Malibu for 60 days and have a new outlook on things now!Hate all you want but I'm above it."

Two years prior he had been missing from the season nine promo reel, prompting fans to wonder if he was returning. 

Sig Hansen remarked, "I am kind of not surprised that Elliot isn't here this year," while the narrator intoned, "Last season, Elliott faced huge setbacks, both at sea and at home."

Jake Harris, unfortunately, has had a lamentable journey since leaving the show. In 2016 he was robbed and beaten after leaving the Quil Ceda Creek Casino in Marysville, Wash., with a couple he met there; he later told police he woke up on the side of the road, missing $2,400 that had been in his wallet.

Josh Harris shared on social media that his brother was in intensive care with a cracked skull.

"My brother was jumped last night and some individuals decided to beat him pretty good, which is a terrible, terrible thing," he said. "They literally beat my brother, left him for dead, threw him out of a moving vehicle onto the side of the freeway.

Two suspects were promptly arrested.

"He's pretty messed up," Josh added. "Hopefully one day we'll get him back fishing again."

While only more time will tell if a return to the profession he once devoted his life to and which meant so much to their dad is in the cards, for now, Jake Harris has a lot of time on his hands to focus on turning things around.

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Jake Harris was arrested again, on suspicion of drug possession and car theft after taking an impromptu trip to Phoenix from Washington with a woman and then leaving their hotel with her car, in April 2017.

Then, this past January, he was stopped by park rangers in Skagit County on suspicion of DUI and ended up leading them in a chase from the wheel of his RV that ended with his arrest for driving under the influence as well as drug possession and possession of a stolen firearm.

The gun charge was dismissed but Jake Harris ended up pleading guilty to DUI and possession with intent to manufacture or distribute heroin, and was sentenced Aug. 1 to 18 months in prison, Oxygen.com reported.

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In the meantime, Phil Harris wasn't the only premature loss for the Deadliest Catch family.

In February 2011, Time Bandit deckhand Justin Tennison died suddenly at the age of 33 in a hotel room in Alaska. The official cause of death was given as complications of sleep apnea. The crew scattered his ashes at sea.

"We've talked about...how living in a high-risk job you never know. His last wishes were to be cremated and taken out to the water for one long trip," deckhand Eddie Uwekoolani told ABC News.


The tight-knit crew of the Cornelia Marie suffered another blow when Tony Lara, a close friend of Phil's who came in to captain the ship in 2011, died of a heart attack in August 2015. He was 50.

"Still in shock over losing Capt #TonyLara @alaskatuff #RIP my friend You had a heart of gold #CorneliaMarie #DeadliestCatch @DeadliestCatch," tweeted his successor as Cornelia Marie captain, Casey McManus.


Sadly enough, Lara's death came two weeks after Joe McMahon, an associate producer on Deadliest Catch's ninth season, was shot to death in East Pasadena, Calif., not far from his home. He was 25.

The 24-year-old suspect in McMahon's killing was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound hours later.

"We are heartsick about this tragedy," Discovery stated at the time. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to all that knew and worked with him."


Another past member of the family, Blake Painter, the deck boss on the Maverick in 2006 who returned as captain in 2007, was found dead at the age of 38 in May 2018.

Friends told police that he had been happy and sober in the days prior to his death, but TMZ reported that July that numerous pills, including the painkiller Tramadol, and paraphernalia containing traces of drug residue were found in his home.

And just this month, Jerod Sechrist, featured briefly on the show as a deckhand in 2016, was charged in Florida with heroin possession and violating probation on a past traffic offense.

But it isn't just the minor or former Deadliest Catch crew members whose behavior on land doesn't match the integrity they try to maintain on the high seas.

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It's harder to find excellent guys," Bill "Wild Bill" Wichrowski, now captain of the Summer Bay, explained to PopCulture.com this spring. "They used to be lined up 12 deep when we were making the crazy rock star money, but now it's almost easier to mold the ones you have and obviously, there's, throughout the fleet, there's addiction problems."

He had given deck boss Nick McGlashan a second chance after McGlashan went to rehab.

"It's in my best interest to do the most for these guys that I can," Wichrowski said. "If you have a crew of five and you lose one, you lost 20 percent of your crew, so we can't really run these guys into the ground and make them want to quit and go home."

Nick "had helped me get where I am today, and I put a lot into him and I tend to get a lot out of him, and I hope that he keeps his head straight."

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Northwestern Captain Sig Hansen, who's been on the show since the beginning, pleaded guilty last year to misdemeanor assault for kicking and spitting on an Uber driver in 2017. He was given a deferred sentence of a year's probation and ordered to stay away from alcohol and marijuana and seek alcohol treatment.

The sentencing judge noticed a previous drunk-and-disorderly case in Hansen's past from 2008.

"I hope that you will take this opportunity to make some positive changes in your life," Seattle Municipal Court Judge Ed McKenna said, per the Seattle Times.

Less than two weeks later, Sig's younger brother Edgar Hansen, deck boss and relief caption on the Northwestern, pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in September 2017.


Edgar received a 364-day suspended jail sentence, was ordered to pay court fines and fees of $1,653, and was ordered to undergo a sexual-deviancy evaluation and treatment, as well as give a DNA sample to authorities, the Seattle Times reported in July 2018.

In pleading to fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation, officially classified as a "gross misdemeanor," Edgar admitted to forcibly kissing and touching the girl.

"I committed this assault for the purpose of my own sexual gratification," Edgar said in a written statement obtained by the Seattle Times. "I am very sorry for that conduct and I have commenced treatment to ensure that nothing like this assault ever happens again."

He did not return to Deadliest Catch.

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