ROCKWOOD, Maine — Ask for a list of the state’s most swashbuckling, adventure-packed professions, and “fisheries biologist” may not show up.
But 96-year-old Roger AuClair of Rockwood, who retired from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in 1985, has stories to tell — like about the time he hitched a ride with a warden pilot to a remote pond he wanted to survey, and things didn’t work out exactly as planned.
“We lashed [the canoe] to the plane’s floats, usually,” AuClair said during a recent chat at his kitchen table. “This time, someone had brought or given [the pilot] a new kind of [strap] like the end of a dog’s leash that you clipped on.”
The clip failed in mid-flight, and the canoe began swinging from the other strap. When the dangling canoe swung forward, the propeller lopped a 4-foot section off the bow.
“[He] was an excellent pilot. He’d been doing that all his life,” AuClair said. “He immediately turned the plane so that the canoe would fall down again, which it did. Then he landed on a smaller pond.”
Far from civilization, the duo realized they would need to make some primitive repairs before the plane would fly again.
“The propeller was bent, so we couldn’t take off,” AuClair said. “We took two or three big rocks and we’d pound on it to flatten the propeller. We got away with it.”
Just another day in the life of a Maine fisheries biologist.
AuClair’s colleagues, who have managed the state’s fisheries resources since 1950, when the first generation of biologists was hired, also have tales to tell. Those stories are now part of what’s inside recently published book “The Origin, Formation & History of Maine’s Inland Fisheries Division,” edited by AuClair’s wife, Suzanne AuClair. It also provides readers with answers to plenty of lingering questions about the scientific work the biologists performed.
Suzanne AuClair said the book project began two years ago, when she and Roger were leaving a get-together of fisheries retirees.
“Just out of the blue, he said, ‘There’s a lot of experience standing there, and there should be something put together, some sort of reference of the work because everything’s scattered, too much time goes by,’” Suzanne AuClair said.
In the book, she tried to capture all those years of experience — essentially the “institutional memory” of the fisheries division — so she could share it with readers.
Finishing the book during her aging husband’s lifetime was a key factor as well, she said.
“I wanted Roger to see it,” she said. And with Roger’s help, she did just that.
The retired fisheries staffers who are still living were asked to submit autobiographies. Most of them did. For the founders of fisheries management in the state, including men who worked in the late 1800s, AuClair did the research.
Copies of the book will be sent to the retirees, and AuClair hopes to have it on school bookshelves for students to read and decide whether the profession would suit them. Additionally copies will be printed to order, should customers contact her. Initially self-published, she said she would love for a traditional publisher to take an interest in the project in the future so more people could read the book.
Norm Dube, a retired Atlantic salmon biologist, worked with many of the other biologists featured in the book. Because of that cooperation and familiarity, the state’s Atlantic salmon researchers are included in the book.
Dube said he was moved by the accounts of his peers, many of whom have died.
“I got reading the biographies of some of the guys, and I was starting to tear up,” Dube said. “I worked side by side with these guys. I knew them very well, and I miss them so terribly.”
Suzanne AuClair said the men who helped form the fisheries division and who did much of the original research on Maine fisheries had stories to tell, even though they are no longer alive.
“All these ghosts started coming back,” she said. “Dr. [Harry] Everhart, Lyn Bond, Ken Warner — all those fellas who sort of put these things into place.”
Everhart was the man who decided Maine ought to have biologists stationed in different regions of the state. As a University of Maine professor of ichthyology and fisheries management, he also was the founding chief of the state’s fishery research and management division.
From his headquarters in Orono, he sent bright students into the field, told them to set up offices and to get to work.
Among that first group of students was Roger AuClair, who was sent to Greenville.
He never left.
AuClair was among the first generation of biologists, the ones who began hearing the same barbs longtime anglers fire at young biologists to this day: “You just got here. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“I guess it’s natural,” Roger AuClair said. “Fishermen have been fishing for 30 or 40 years, and we hadn’t even seen Moosehead Lake — I had never even seen Moosehead Lake [when I was hired]. So they were bound to decide that they knew more about it than I did.”
If you’re interested in ordering a copy of “The Origin, Formation & History of Maine’s Inland Fisheries Division,” call Suzanne AuClair at 534-7715 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org