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'Deadliest Catch' welcome wearing thin in Unalaska?

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman
Discovery Channel photo

The Deadliest Catch's access to scenes of injured fishermen inside the local clinic has been cut off. The Iliuliuk Family and Health Services board of directors unanimously voted down a location release on Jan. 18 from Original Productions, the popular television show's producer.

Before the vote was taken, clinic health care providers were asked by board chair Michelle Callaham how they felt about being rock stars and TV stars on the show that airs on the Discovery Channel featuring Bering Sea crab boats.

None spoke in favor.

Rebecca Stroklund, a clinic physician, said a patient disregarded requests to stop video-recording with his small camera, and falsely claimed the footage was only for his personal use. She said clinic staff determined later it was actually for the TV show.

"That really made us mad," she said.

While in past seasons the show's professional videographers would only shoot with consent, services would slow down if a doctor or nurse declined, and the clinic needed to search for a health care provider willing to appear on national television, Stroklund said.

"I don't think it has the best interests of our patients at heart," said Dr. Jennifer Neumann.

Clinic executive director Eileen Scott said she brought the TV access issue to the board's attention, because there needed to be something "clear cut, in writing."

Scott arrived at the clinic in October.

Previously she said, the TV cameras were allowed in the clinic with a staff escort, and were always "extremely respectful about what not to film."

The vote count was eight board members opposed, none in favor.

Original Catch spokeswoman Maggie Nye declined comment, pending the release of the minutes of the meeting when the board meets again on Feb. 15.

Board member Dick Peck complained that the Deadliest Catch had reneged on a "sky's the limit" promise to give money to the clinic, saying, "They are like snakes in the grass."

Board member and former city mayor Frank Kelty said he would vote to support the health care providers' opposition. But he added that a sizeable donation might help restore access.

"If they come up with a half million dollars, I might vote for reconsideration," he said.

In addition to these concerns, female health care providers said they didn't want to continue visiting patients on factory trawlers because of alleged sexual harassment by crewmembers onboard the boats.

"None of us are comfortable going on those vessels, barring of course, a police escort," said Laura Ballou.

"Or a bouncer," Neumann added.

Kelty, a former local seafood plant crab manager, said later that he was personally offended by the show's coverage of crab fisherman Phil Harris's deathbed scene at the Providence Hospital in Anchorage.

Harris was among the stars of the show as the captain of the fishing vessel Cornelia Marie.

Board member and seafood industry executive Sinclair Wilt said he'd been "misled" by TV crews in the past, and voiced concerns about patient confidentiality.

"This makes me nervous," he said at the monthly meeting at the Unalaska Public Library.

Callaham worried about a contract provision calling for any disputes to be settled in courts in California, where Original Productions is based, and not in Alaska.

The board also voted to deny access to another Discovery Channel show, featuring emergency health care, produced by Mike Mathis Productions, Inc.

Kelty urged clinic officials to discuss the issue with the At-Sea Processors Association. Callaham said the clinic has contacted the association.

Wilt said the mobile clinic program was aimed at preventing congestion when a dozen workers would arrive together in a van.

However, he said new systems under way at the clinic including earlier hours might have similar results.

This article was originally published in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is reprinted here with permission.