February 10, 2010 / 6:26 PM / 9 years ago

TV's "Deadliest Catch" captain Phil Harris dies

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tough fishing boat captain Phil Harris, whose brave exploits in the wild waters off the Alaskan coast were captured on the popular television show “Deadliest Catch,” has died, family members said. He was 53.

Harris suffered a stroke in late January while in port at St. Paul Island, Alaska, off-loading the fishing vessel he ran, the Cornelia Marie. He was taken to an Anchorage hospital for treatment, and his sons and the Discovery Channel, which aired the show, said late on Tuesday he had died.

“Dad has always been a fighter and continued to be until the end,” his sons Josh and Jake Harris, who were deckhands on the boat, said a statement. “For us and the crew, he was someone who never backed down. We will remember and celebrate that strength.”

Harris and other captains have gained admiration on “Deadliest Catch,” which airs in 170 countries, displaying their prowess in catching king and Opilio crab in dangerous currents and icy conditions in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia.

The tattooed Harris was one of the most vocal captains on the TV series, which began in 2005, risking his life for commercial fishing. Alaska is home to one of the world’s largest food fisheries.

“He was more than someone on our television screen. Phil was a devoted father and loyal friend to all who knew him. We will miss his straightforward honesty, wicked sense of humor and enormous heart,” the Discovery Channel said in a statement.

“We share our tremendous sadness over this loss with the millions of viewers who followed Phil’s every move.”

While being treated Harris was improving enough to display some of his trademark bluntness, according to a February 3 posting by his sons on the Discovery Channel’s website, telling doctors and nurses not to make mistakes in his attempted recovery.

Harris was in the fishing industry for 33 years and for the past 19 years was captain of the Cornelia crew. He told Reuters in an interview in July last year that fishermen were not to blame in the debate over declining fish populations.

“When things go wrong, the fishermen get blamed, but the truth is we are only fishing what they tell us we can fish,” Harris said, referring to the quotas that Alaskan crab fisherman like him are given at the beginning of each season setting limits to how much they can catch.

Reporting by Christine Kearney, editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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