A Fading Craft Preserved Off the Coast of Maine

James Sewell is one of about 30 active scallop divers in Maine.

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James Sewell makes his living the hard way. He is one of about 30 active scallop divers left in the state of Maine. Changes in climate and fish populations have altered the potency of each year’s harvest. “When I first started scallop diving, the scallops were thick — it’s changed a lot. There’s less of them then there ever was,” said Sewell, who works off the coast of Cushing.

In 2009, his rigorous work become infinitely more taxing. Five weeks after becoming a father, Sewell lost his right arm in a snowmobile accident. “You go from living such a high to a low,” he said. Yet less than a year removed from his injuries, he was back in the water to try and regain a sense of normalcy. Relying heavily on his tender, Jason Simmons, Sewell was been able continue his diving. “You have to trust your tender,” said Sewell. “He follows you and watches you… he gets to know the way you like things.”

Given the dangers of his work, his age (43) and the toll it takes on his body, Sewell is well aware that he won’t be able to continue this line of work forever. “It’s just not a 9-to-5 job — deep diving puts a lot of nitrogen into your body — it’s hard on your joints, it’s hard on you,” he said. And now, as a father of two, Sewell’s more apt to think of those living above the water. “I think about my family and the risk you take. Every day you go down on bottom… that might be the last time that you see them.”

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