By Gail McCarthy
---- — GLOUCESTER — Three years ago, its debut was the launch of a reality TV experiment.
Now, tomorrow’s season premiere is the anxiously-awaited return of a TV hit, filmed right off Gloucester’s shores.
The third season of National Geographic Channel’s “Wicked Tuna” might be the most competitive yet, with more captains competing to see who pulls in the most lucrative catch of bluefin tuna, a giant that can weigh more than 1,500 pounds and sell for more than $20,000.
“People have really responded to the show,” said Chad Sandhas, communications director for National Geographic Channels. “There are fishermen all over the world who love watching other fishermen haul in huge fish. I think that is universal, and for fishermen who have never seen a fish as big as the bluefin, it’s exciting to see them being pulled in.
“We have a huge fan base in Australia so it’s pretty popular Down Under,” said Capt. Dave Marciano of the F/V Hard Merchandise in a phone interview yesterday. “There’s always fans in Italy, and after my trip to Croatia, I have gotten feedback from there, too.”
One of the most unusual notes, Marciano said, came in an email from a family in Pakistan.
“I learned that the show translates into ‘Fighting Fins’ in Hindi,” he said. “They complimented me on how well I speak Hindi. Can you imagine me yelling at Jay (his first mate) in Hindi?”
Marciano, of Beverly, is back and stronger with a newly repaired boat with better equipment. His previous boat sunk while docked at the Gloucester Marine Railway last year.
One of this season’s newcomers is Gloucester native Capt. Billy “Hollywood” Muniz, a harpoon fisherman who uses a spotter plane, which will bring aerial shots to Season 3.
Fan favorite Paul Hebert, who lives Gloucester and is known for his animated spirit, starts this season as captain of his own boat, the Wicked Pissah, instead of working for Capt. Dave Carraro of the boat FV-Tuna.com.
“I am so looking forward to this season,” he said. “I finally have a boat and it has no problems. My brother and I are really going to be dangerous.”
Marciano and Hebert will also be part of a spin-off show now being filmed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Capt. Tyler McLaughlin, on the Pin Wheel, will find himself trying to outfish his mentor, show newcomer Capt. T.J. Ott aboard the boat Hot Tuna. Rounding out the fleet are the Bounty Hunter, led by husband and wife team Bill and Donna Monte of Salem.
“Wicked Tuna” premieres Sunday at 9 p.m.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-675-2706.