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UMaine Today Magazine

A Fisherman Committed to Better Management
Back to The Scientist and the Fisherman-]

Cameron McLellan
Trawler captain Cameron McLellan aboard the Adventurer

Whether they drag for cod, trawl for shrimp or haul traps for lobster, the men and women who make their living off the coast of Maine are an uncompromising lot: deliberate, honest and stubborn. They won't be driven, they're not easily led and, as with scientists, the truth is something they like to discover themselves.

For 45-year-old trawler captain Cameron McLellan, the quest for truth became a 10-year odyssey that continues to blur the line between fishing and science.

McLellan has been fishing for groundfish full time for the last 30 years, having captained his first trawler at 19. His sons, Dustin, 21, and Brendon, 19, make up his crew as the seventh generation of McLellans who have made their living on cod, hake, pollack and flounder. Families like the McLellans have helped to define commercial fishing in Maine, building the industry and the traditions that have become such an important part of the state's cultural identity.

His experience as a commercial fisherman has carried him from the icy gray waters of the Bering Sea to the windswept shores of Chile. Despite his travels, he proudly describes himself as a Maine fisherman, and is as much a native of the waters surrounding Georges Bank and Jeffreys Ledge as he is of the quiet streets of his hometown of Boothbay.

As populations of groundfish continue to struggle, populations of draggermen are dwindling as well, driven out of business by rising costs, shrinking profits and the ever-increasing weight of government regulations. Unwilling to stand by and watch the fishery collapse, McLellan took a head-on approach, proposing a series of research efforts to better understand Maine's groundfish populations and to develop a more sustainable management plan. From examining the potential benefits of artificial reefs to sampling the sediments on the ocean floor, McLellan has been involved in scientific initiatives and has coauthored several scientific papers.

While his research efforts have given McLellan some hard-earned respect in the lab and on the docks, it is hauling nets for groundfish that pays the bills, and the margin between success and failure seems to shrink with every passing year. The seven-trawler McLellan family fleet has shrunk to a struggling three, as McLellan and his sons, his father and his siblings continue to eke out a living with only a fraction of the allowed days at sea they once had.

This season, McLellan has a limit of just over 81 days in which he can fish. Next season, he expects to have 60. As he watches the rising costs of fuel and gear push his expenses past the $10,000 mark for every run, the idea of breaking even has become even more elusive than the fish themselves. Yet McLellan remains committed to the idea that better management can make a difference, and that collaboration between fishermen and scientists is the best way to get there.


UMaine Today Magazine
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