GLOUCESTER, Mass. — The pandemic’s tidal wave of challenges left nothing untouched, even the rivalry among fishing vessels. Viewers of National Geographic Channel’s “Wicked Tuna” will see a new dynamic when the 10th season opens with a 90-minute episode at 9 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 21.

The show follows fishermen in the highly competitive hunt for bluefin tuna, and the race back to shore to catch highest price for a fish demanded around the world.

That was until COVID-19 shutdown restaurants a year ago, or forced them to operate at reduced capacity.

The market for bluefin sank.

Fish buyers and eight captains on “Wicked Tuna” worked together to create a plan that would not flood the market and still keep them all afloat.

“We didn’t see the prices we saw in the past, but it was a fun year to participate in because we wanted it to be fun,” said Capt. Dave Marciano, who is back this season on a newly renovated vessel, Hard Merchandise.

“We didn’t make the money like past years, but we were fortunate in this climate to be doing anything at all,” said Marciano. “A lot of people are unable to do whatever it is they do, and many restaurants never opened fully.

“The one thing we wanted was for it to be a very positive season for the viewers,” he said. “Collectively we all have seen enough negativity, between elections and the pandemic. We truly want people to have fun watching this show and forget about their worries. And I think we accomplished that.”

Capt. Paul Hebert, of the fishing vessel Wicked Pissah, suffered a personal loss when his father, Donald Hebert, died of COVID-19 in a nursing home early in the pandemic. At the time, the younger Hebert was filming the spinoff series “Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks” and, because of restrictions, couldn’t visit his dad.

“It was one of the worst things I’ve been through. It was such a surprise to all of us,” Hebert said.

He hopes this season will lift viewers’ spirits.

“We worked as hard as we possibly could, and we put a lot of time in my boat because my boat is slower, but it paid off,” he said. “We are excited for this season and everyone is going to see how we all came together in this pandemic and we all helped each other out.

“I think the world has had enough with all the fighting, and it goes to show you when times are really tough, people who are competitive can work together.”

The eight “Wicked Tuna” captains set aside their maritime rivalries to find some camaraderie. Marciano said the captains and buyers limited themselves due to the weakened market, and agreed to sell only three days a week.

Marciano said this is the most fun season yet on a show that now airs in 171 countries in 43 languages.

Reigning champion Capt. T.J. Ott of the Hot Tuna returns, along with Capt. Dave Carraro aboard the Also competing are Capt. Bob Cook of the Fat Tuna, and new captains Jack Patrican of Time Flies and Spurge Krasowski of the Moonshine.

Also returning is Capt. Tyler McLaughlin of the Pinwheel.

“It’s just really hard to make a living right now,” McLaughlin said. “This year in Gloucester, we’re just hoping to survive and make a couple bucks. These are strange times.”

Gail McCarthy writes for the Gloucester Daily Times.

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