8th January '24

Willie John McLean

"We need to stand up for fishing communities and make sure skills built over generations aren't lost."

Location: Mallaig
Job: Skipper, Shellfish vessel

For Willie John MacLean, fishing is in his blood. Hailing from the picturesque fishing village of Mallaig on Scotland's west coast, Willie John represents the third generation of his family to make their living from the sea.

"My father and grandfather were fishermen, and most of my cousins and uncles too - it's just what we've always done here," he explains.

Willie John first stepped onto a fishing boat at the tender age of 13. Now 62, he has dedicated nearly 50 years of his life to the fishing industry. During this time, he has witnessed first-hand the changes and challenges that have impacted this proud Scottish tradition.

When he started out, Mallaig harbour would be filled with 50-60 boats in the summer months. Today, only around 10 remain. He has seen crews dwindle as the younger generation turn to industries that offer regular hours and time off. Yet his passion for fishing remains undimmed.

"I still love it. I couldn't see myself doing anything else," Willie John declares. "It's hard work but it's enjoyable. You have a lot of freedom and you're your own boss."

Together with his son Aaron, Willie John operates the Caralisa - named after his wife Allison who plays a pivotal role on shore when the boat lands its catch. He specialises in trawl fishing for langoustines which are exported to meet demand in France and Spain.

Sustainability is paramount for Willie John. Generations of his family have fished responsibly in the same waters, demonstrating that fishing and marine life can successfully co-exist. He dismisses claims by environmental groups that bottom trawling damages seabeds, explaining that trawl boats use escape panels to allow young fish to swim free.

While Willie John understands public concerns about overfishing, he believes many have been misled by myths and lack fishermen's in-depth knowledge.

"The environmentalists don't want to speak to fishermen or hear what we have to say," he says. "I would happily stand next to anyone and talk only facts about the fishing industry, not hearsay."

Further restrictions threaten to close vital fishing grounds without scientific basis, according to Willie John. But he remains determined to fight for a sustainable future so his son [SS1] can continue the family tradition.

"I'm very proud he/they? wants to keep fishing. But I do worry for the future," says Willie John. "We need to stand up for fishing communities and make sure skills built over generations aren't lost."

After a lifetime spent doing what he loves, Willie John MacLean is a shining example of the spirit and pride at the heart of Scotland's fishing industry.

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