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Mike McClelland, Illinois’ new fisheries chief, is shown with a paddlefish caught doing Asian Carp work on the Illinois River in the Morris area.
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An introductory interview with Illinois’ new fisheries chief: Mike McClelland

SHARE An introductory interview with Illinois’ new fisheries chief: Mike McClelland
SHARE An introductory interview with Illinois’ new fisheries chief: Mike McClelland

Here’s an introduction interview with Mike McClelland, the new Illinois fisheries Chief.

He earned his bachelor’s and master’s in biology and aquatic science from Western Illinois. He worked for 14 years at the Illinois Natural History Survey’s Havana Field Station. He began his Illinois Department of Natural Resources career with the Asian Carp crew and was Rivers, Reservoirs and Inland Waters program manager until becoming fisheries chief.

This the unabridged online version.

Is this a dream job for you?

I’ve always been somewhat fluid with my career path. I would have to say that becoming a fisheries biologist was certainly my dream job and as opportunities arose to move into different facets of that career path, I always pursued those opportunities. I may be crazy, but I really do enjoy the mental challenges of fisheries administration in IDNR. The Chief of Fisheries will definitely provide plenty of those challenges, so in that regard and at this point in my career, I would say it is now my dream job and I am really humbled to even be considered for such a position.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for you and for the division?

The first part are the challenges for me personally – my philosophy is that this position is and should be the highest level of service to the Division of Fisheries staff and Illinois anglers. I hope to be able to provide all the tools and support necessary to our Fisheries team to ensure they are successful at their jobs, which then will echo into a better product – better fishing – to our anglers. The second part then are the challenges to the Division of Fisheries itself. The biggest challenge, and this is obviously not new to anyone, is the replacement of all the Fisheries staff we have lost to retirement and other opportunities. We are beginning to hire many new positions and that will help alleviate all the extra work loads on our staff, which in turn increases the public service.

What most concerns you about the current state of fisheries?

I really see a lot of positive to fisheries in Illinois. We are blessed with a great staff, people who really probably know a great deal more about fisheries management than myself, and are extremely dedicated to their careers. However, one of our immediate concerns are the upgrade needs at our hatcheries. The hatcheries require more specialized infrastructure and equipment and the time has come to make many upgrades and repairs. That requires adjustments to funds and budgeting, but we should be in a good place to address most, if not all, of our hatchery needs over the next couple of years.

What are you most proud of so far in your career?

Just being at a level where I could even be considered for the Chief of Fisheries is a proud moment for me. There really are a number of great segments of my career that have brought me to this point, all of which I’m proud to have been a part of. Working with a great research team at INHS and being able to build my scientific base and publish our work was an excellent starting point. Coming over to IDNR on the Asian Carp team and working in the Chicago area was a great experience. Then moving into fisheries administration and working with and learning from other great administrators has been paramount to providing me with this opportunity.

A bit of an off the wall question: Any chance the division will work on modernizing working definitions (and what those definitions mean in terms of practical impact) of game fish vs rough fish?

Interesting question, I like it! We can likely all agree that greater detail put into defining our fisheries will always be beneficial. In the example of game fish vs. rough fish, we would probably be well served to better delineate what fish belong in what group and how those groups fall into angler participation. By that I mean, what angling/fishing user groups are best served by the way the sportfish, rough fish, and then even non-game fish are categorized. Then the other side of the coin is, what fish categories will need some level of protection or regulation from the different participation groups (rod and reel anglers, bowfishers, commercial fishers).

[McClelland added this additional thought on his overall philosophy]

I am a very strong believer in communication. The number one point I wanted to make when I interviewed for this position is that I strive for open communication at all levels. I very much value the opinion and thoughts of others – something I don’t want is to have a bunch of clones of myself that only think as I do. I am genuinely interested in and value those differing thoughts and ideas of others, ultimately leading to cloning a common goal. The goal of making great fisheries! I will likely never learn anything new if I only listen to those who think the same.

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