Joe Conchelos aka Joe Berzerk: Fishing boat captain and TikTok star

We recently talked with Joe about COVID-19’s effects on the fishing industry, vaccination and TikTok fame. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

I’m the captain of a commercial fishing boat here in Newport. I fish squid and crab and tuna. When we got hit with COVID it was devastating to the industry. A lot of our live crab is shipped to China and when they were shut down it was affecting our market. We got a million dollars of orders canceled overnight. We were really struggling to try to find a domestic market. It was tough. Our price dropped by more than half.  

Joe Conchelos with his family.

We were going to go tendering in Alaska, but we couldn’t get tender contracts because the plants had outbreaks and it was a bad scene. (Tender boats head out to sea and meet fishing boats that are full of fish. The tender boat buys the fish and takes it to sell at the nearest fish processing plant.) 

Getting the vaccine is huge for business. If we keep on with COVID, I’m going to go out of business. This last year, my income has been half or less than any other normal year.  

I’m a combat veteran and I have bad lungs. COVID sketched me out. If I get it there’s a fairly good chance I could die from it. I’m 38 years old and I’ve got a family, I’ve got a daughter, I’ve got people, a whole crew that depends on me. I have to go to work. I’m a food producer. I’m supporting a family and a crew. It’s something you do out of respect for humanity or mankind. Do your part to protect your neighbors.  

I really hope that more people will open up to the possibility of a vaccine and see that it’s not just a certain type of person that’s getting it. There are working-class people that are getting it.   

I think it’s just the responsible thing to do. I’m kind of sick of living in the COVID world. I want to be able to have BBQs with my friends and hang out. I want my daughter to be able to give my Mom a hug. 

As Joe Berzerk, he calls out racism and homophobia on TikTok in language that’s not suitable for all. He’s not quite sure how he got to nearly 150,000 followers but says maybe it’s because he messes with people’s expectations: “I’m a pretty gruff guy, I’m very large, covered in tattoos. I have a beard and I’m all grizzled from fishing. If people were to look at me they may not guess where I stand politically.” 

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This article first appeared in the April 20, 2021 issue of Oregon Coronavirus Update.