NEW YORK — Climate change is one of the main characters in the new season of "Deadliest Catch," with the crab fishermen in one of Discovery's most enduring and popular shows forced to deal with a sudden warming of the Bering Sea that chases their prey into deeper, more dangerous water.
That leads the adventure series into its own uncharted waters. The show's 13th season debuts Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.
"It's a big risk for us to discuss climate change because so many people can think that it's a political issue when really it isn't, particularly in the context of the fishing fleet," said R. Decker Watson, Jr., one of the show's executive producers.
The waters off Alaska that provide the livelihood for the show's real-life stars warmed by a dramatic 4 degrees in one year. The cold water-loving crab is depleted in the traditional fishing areas, so some of the boats strike out for new territory that is more dangerous because of fiercer storms and is further from rescue workers if something goes wrong, he said.
In fact, the new season documents one vessel lost at sea. It was not one of the crews regularly featured in the series, but all of the regulars knew who was involved, he said.
The developments offer an opportunity to educate an audience that might be less familiar about climate change. The median age of a "Deadliest Catch" viewer is 50 and the show skews 60 per cent male which, judging by the results of the last election, might include its share of climate change skeptics. Yet Discovery isn't interested in preaching; the series is more interested in documenting what is happening, not in explaining why.
There are no scientists aboard the fishing boats, and the show's main purpose is to follow the lives of the crew, said Rich Ross, Discovery president.
"At the end of the day, the job of 'Deadliest Catch' isn't to teach people, it's to keep people at the edge of their seats," Watson said.
The season-opener of "Deadliest Catch" comes two days before Discovery airs the documentary, "Sacred Cod," about the collapse of the cod fishing industry in New England.
Earlier this decade, with the documentary series "Frozen Planet," some environmentalists criticized Discovery for side-stepping issues surrounding global warming. But at the end of 2015, the network aired the pointed documentary "Racing Extinction" about the depleting of species simultaneously in 220 markets around the world.
At a presentation for advertisers recently, Discovery Communications announced a multimillion dollar effort to fund a project that helps to restore the population of wild tigers in India. The project wasn't picked to avoid the larger, more contentious topic of climate change, but rather to go after a narrower, specific issue with an immediate chance of making a difference, said David Leavy, Discovery's chief corporate operations officer.
The show's new season isn't all about missing fish, as it documents the personalities of the men involved in the dangerous pursuit. One captain, Sig Hansen, narrowly survived a heart attack and this season is contemplating how long he wants to keep fishing.
Watson has worked his way up from being one of the filmmakers on a fishing boat to one of the show's leaders, and he feels a personal stake in what's happening in the Bering Sea and on the planet in general.
"When something like this comes up, it's felt by all of us," he said. "I love making this show, and so does the rest of my team. We look forward to going back to Dutch Harbor every year. There's something special about it."
David Bauder, The Associated Press