The act of fishing, regardless of the advantages of modern technologies, still remains a test of man against the sea. Until the day comes when the entirety of fishing is automated, fishermen will have to brave the elements and work the long hours necessary to find, harvest, and process the ocean’s bounty. This is true of small one-person fishing operations, all the way to large factory trawlers with crews of a hundred people. The state of Alaska is emblematic of pristine waters, well-managed fisheries, and the evolution of modern fisheries, large and small; as well as fishermen’s struggle to eek out an existence in one of the world’s most challenging maritime environments.
Exploring the islands of Houat, Hoëdic, and Belle Ile, and other ports in the French region of Brittany, and documenting their fishermen, was an amazing contrast to my Alaskan experiences photographing commercial fisheries. The visual differences between the places are fairly easy for any observer to see, given the stark differentiations in climate and topography. As amazed as I was by the land and seascapes, my primary interest was in the fishermen, their style of fishing and how the fisheries operated. Everything from the types of boats, nets, pots, machinery on the deck, to the length of fishing trips was different, but despite the differences, the universal experience of being a fishermen and making a living on the sea is the same regardless of where a fisherman pulls his nets, line, or pots.
Increasingly around the globe, fisheries are being consolidated into corporate operations, while efficient and easier to regulate and manage, they diminish the cultural, economic, and geographic benefits that many small fishing fleets can provide to a region. What do societies lose when communities in Alaska like Elfin Cove and Tenakee disappear, or in Brittany in places like Houat and Hoëdic when there are no more fishermen? They may be on the geographic fringes, but they provide a connection to the earliest roots of our societies being connected to the land and sea. They also provide inland communities access to the increasingly rare commodity of healthy, wild, and fresh seafood. Consumers that consciously buy seafood from local markets are not only supporting the local fishermen, they are sustaining a way of life and cultural tradition that stretches back to the beginning of society.
In today’s world the average consumer has little connection or knowledge about how or who made the clothes they wear, the materials and people that create the ever-increasing number of electronic devices we use, and the people who grow and harvest the food that we eat. The images that I create are a means of trying to reconnect the viewer to the seafood that is on their plate. My goal is to tell the story of how fish are harvested and the day-to-day existence of the men and women who ply the waters to catch the multitude of species we eat. As resources become more and more scarce across the globe, it is incumbent upon consumers to discern where their food is coming from and understand the outcomes of consuming food that is harvested, grown, and manufactured in unsustainable and environmentally detrimental fashions. Until we decide to conscientiously consume our goods and resources, the world and future generations will suffer the effects of our wanton consumption.
*Peoch-a-Labour – Is a phrase in Bretagne, the celtic language native to the region of Brittany, France, that roughly translates to “Shut-up and work”.