Pet Rat Aboard Deadliest Catch Boat Draws State Scrutiny

Thursday, October 25 2012


Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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. KUCB's Stephanie Joyce reports.

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.

Hansen: Hey! Rats are good luck!

Narrator: And his good luck charm gets a stay of execution.

Hansen: 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!!

Hansen: 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.


previously a fisherman and now long term resident Dutch Harbor/Unalaska on Wednesday, October 31 2012:

To Greg, I think you have a grudge. <<A grudge is something that is held against someone for something or an issue they haven't resolved peacefully or discussed>>

The Sig I know is unbelievably nice, quiet, reasonable, and most of all has patience. <<Patience is the state of endurance under difficult circumstance...>>

I was on the same Pen Air flight with him in early January 2009. We had long delays in Anchorage and then Cold Bay trying to get to Dutch Harbor due to weather. Pen Air tried and could not land in Dutch Harbor due to weather. We went back to Anchorage. The next day Pen Air tried again same passengers. Long delays again in Anchorage and Cold Bay but we finally made it to Dutch harbor.

Just Saying... on Sunday, October 28 2012:

If the Northwestern is going to be fined, $200,000.00 for harboring a rat, then the City should be fined for the same law....harboring rats..

Just saying

kipp on Saturday, October 27 2012:

Get a fn clue apparently they have nothing better to film but a rat on board ! If this goes any further their is NOOOO hope for this country

Bill on Saturday, October 27 2012:

Really, I mean really the state has nothing on it's plate except to harrass some hard working fisherman and threaten to fine them a seasons wages get real, Alaska tax payer dollars at work

Melvin Willard on Saturday, October 27 2012:

Not all internet published research is equal, just as not all rats are the same. Rats have been known to swim almost a mile from ships in the Aleutians.

Yes, it does take two rats to tango. The concern is that when rats get spread around, it gives them the opportunity to add new genes to the existing gene pool (where rats already are).

Yeah on Friday, October 26 2012:

Rat probably jumped overboard to get the hell away from the Deadliest Catch crew as fast as possible.

Greg on Friday, October 26 2012:

I hope they prosecute just for the hell of it. Sig's a douche and DC gives fishermen a bad name.

Zidar on Friday, October 26 2012:

I did some extensive online research on how well rats can swim. It seems their limit in warm waters is about 300 meters. Cold water reduces their range dramatically. What's most interesting is scientists testing the swimming abilities of rats are not allowed to let the rats drown....they have to "save" them when they start to tire.

duh2 on Thursday, October 25 2012:

if you actually watched the episode in question you would realize the rat was unintentionally re-released on board and it jumped overboard of its own free will, very likely far enough away from land that it met its untimely demise long before it hit land.

Duh on Thursday, October 25 2012:

I'm no State Biologist, but it takes two rats to tango, right?


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