A small boy sits in his boat while overhead the clear blue sky is filled with sun and soft clouds cast shadows across the surface of the pond. The child begins to imagine a life at sea: a life filled with days of fresh air, sunshine, and the thrill of the catch. He’ll dream of bigger boats and massive seas, and a much larger catch. His dreams will become his passion and his passion will become his life’s work.
As Mattapoisett’s Tyler Macallister tells it, “My grandfather Herbert Sunderman introduced me to fishing. He lived on Wequaquet Lake in Centerville. I started fishing a lot at a very young age with him on a small boat my grandparents had gotten for me.”
By the time he was 12 years old, Macallister would be well on his way to becoming a commercial fisherman.
“I started commercial fishing on a limited basis at twelve and commercial tuna fishing at seventeen,” he said.
Today, Macallister has created for himself and his family a lifestyle that allows him to hunt for tuna deep in the Atlantic Ocean, while also providing consultant services to the telecommunications and solar industries.
“I’ve built my life to function well around commercial tuna fishing,” he explained. The sound of his voice resonates with a sense of being very satisfied with his life choices, especially fishing. Macallister has also been a Mattapoisett Selectman since 2011and a commission member on the Conservation Commission from 2005 to 2011.
But his first love is clearly fishing.
The fishing vessel Cynthia C., named after his wife, sails from Sandwich Harbor, a historic port for both shore and offshore fishing.
“I bought my first commercial tuna boat in 2002,” Macallister said. “I started building the F/V Cynthia C. in 2001 and launched her in 2009. Bought F/V Cynthia C. 2 in 2016.”
Macallister has also known a bit of fame from tuna fishing. He has been featured on The Outdoor Channel on Trev Gowdy’s Monster Fish, New England Fishing, On The Water Television, Boston Magazine, Cape Cod Life, and various fishing blogs. And, oh yes, he was recently videotaped for the Discovery Channel’s Local Knowledge series.
While filming for the Discovery Channel, Macallister said the weather was terrible. “We saw one great white shark, which always makes good television, but only one bunch of fish.” And by 6:00 pm on the last day of filming, after sending the spotter plane home due to bad (atmospheric) light conditions, “and with no fish in the cockpit,” said Macallister, they suddenly spotted fish jumping in the water.
“We got very lucky,” Macallister said. “The fish came up, swam close to the surface, and we were able to catch two 500-pound tuna in about ten minutes, pretty much going from zero to hero.
“The show really captured the frustration and subsequent exhilaration of catching fish at the last minute,” he recalled.
Macallister said that back in the mid-1980s there was a great deal of pressure on tuna. But he said that fisherman, along with regulatory agencies, “made a lot of good decisions” that allowed the fish stock to rebound. However, tuna populations remained low through the early 2000s, driving up prices. Today the opposite is true.
“People often ask me about tuna prices. It varies between $6 and $8 a pound,” Macallister shared. “The fish have recovered in great numbers and fish farming allows tuna to be an on-demand commodity.” Abundance has driven down prices, while demand for the fish has remained high.
Putting the business side of fishing in the stern for a moment, the thrill of fishing is a powerful force. While out at sea, all other thoughts are blown away as the vessel advances on a school of tuna. Concentration is paramount so that safety is ensured.
“It’s not dangerous if you know what you’re doing,” Macallister said.
In the spring, when the tuna are traveling closer to the surface, Macallister uses a spotter pilot to give him the coordinates, allowing him to hone in on the fish.
“We harpoon fish in the spring,” Macallister explained.
Later on in the season when the fish are fattening up for their migration south, they travel deeper into the water column.
“That’s when we use rods and reels,” he said.
The biggest tuna Macallister ever hauled in weighed 1,150 pounds.
“They are big fish,” he said.
To find the tuna during the fishing season, which runs from June through October, professional fishermen must travel up to 70 miles out to sea. But Macallister also enjoys fishing closer to shore, especially if it includes young people. Macallister takes groups on fishing trips out of Mattapoisett Harbor in the spring, traveling about three miles out into Buzzards Bay.
“We go for sea bass, fluke, scup; it’s a lot of fun,” said Macallister. “They get a lot of action.” The beaming faces of the children tell him just how much he is influencing their young lives. “I really like taking the kids fishing.”
As a man whose outdoor interests are deeply ingrained, Macallister sees a need to engage our youths.
“We need more recruitment in the outdoors,” he said. “We need to get kids and young adults interested in fishing. If we don’t, fees collected by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, fees that help to support conservation efforts, will dry up.” He added, “Sportsmen support the majority of the conservation efforts in the US.”
As a professional tuna fisherman who has experienced the thrill and the challenges this type of hunting can bring, Macallister laughs at reality TV shows such as Wicked Tuna.
“Don’t believe it,” said Macallister. “That’s entertainment.”
The real tuna fishing is, no doubt, much more exciting.
By Marilou Newell