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A day in the life of a Cape Cod tuna fisherman

Hitting the high seas with Tyler Macallister and the Cynthia C!

Hitting the high seas with Tyler Macallister and the Cynthia C!

Photo by: Josh Shortsleeve

The directions come down from above. “One o’clock—six boats. Twelve o’clock— three boats, two boats . . .” As pilot Dan d’Hedouville spots individual or schools of tuna while circling in the sky above, he radios the fish’s coordinates to the crew aboard the Cynthia C below.

With this information, the ship’s captain, Tyler Macallister, and crew member, Jeff Richardson, spring into action. The boat—built specifically for speed, stealth, and the purpose of catching tuna—is gunned in the direction of the fish: “12 o’clock” signaling dead ahead, “two boats” indicating “at a distance of two boats’ length.”

The pilot’s messages continue: “Twelve o’clock—one boat . . . three quarters of a boat . . . one-half boat . . . ” At this proximity, Macallister has climbed out onto the pulpit, a walkway that extends out from the boat’s bow, allowing him to hover above the water to better see the fish below. It’s a precarious perch, and while he’s out there it’s easy to see why the crew prefers to fish in still waters. The radio crackles again: “Right below you!” Steering at the helm, Richardson keeps the boat as steady as he can, while out on the pulpit, with a fish spied at a depth of four to five feet, Macallister slowly raises his harpoon . . .

A resident of Mattapoisett, Macallister, 47, has been a commercial tuna fisherman since 1985. In his career, he has experienced many amazing days on the water; in July, he caught a fish that weighed about 1,000 pounds—or 680 pounds dressed. The largest tuna he ever brought on board weighed 1,150 pounds and measured 126 inches from head to tail. On the other hand, some days he returns home from work with nothing but a tan.

“You can sit up [in the tower] for hours and see nothing,” Macallister says. “You look at a spot, look away, look back, and the fish are there. It’s what makes me do it. It’s addicting.” In July, Macallister invited a writer and photographer from Cape Cod LIFE to join him on the Cynthia C to observe his team at work on the high seas.

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