Brian Raymond, a lifelong fisherman turned shark dive operator and photographer, recently shared some powerful and disturbing images he captured of bycatch in the waters off of southern New England. Bycatch refers to unintended species that are caught while fishing for another species and is a regular occurrence in commercial fishing.
Animals such as sharks, dolphins, turtles, seals, sea birds, and others are often the victims of commercial fishing activities, but usually go undocumented. The images Raymond has shared provide a rare glimpse at events most of us will likely never witness, as the only ones with access to such destruction are generally the fishermen themselves, or other periodic observers such as visitors from NOAA.
Having spent his childhood working with his family, Raymond always viewed commercial fishing in a positive light but was never aware of its implications. Once he finished school he went straight to work in the in the squid industry. He would be out at sea for up to ten days at a time. While he made a decent living, Raymond felt like something was missing. After an injury put him out of work for nearly an entire year, he had the opportunity to see blue sharks up close, and in a different light.
Once Raymond’s injury healed, he got back to work — but his experience with blue sharks lingered in his heart. That experience shifted his perspective — particularly the bycatch aspect. Raymond said, “I had never been comfortable with the idea of animals dying that we weren’t going to save, but as a fisherman, you have to accept it as part of the job. Now, it became a painful daily reminder of the things that are wrong with the commercial fishing industry — so many animals killed for nothing. However, my feelings put me in a very unique position. I could now use my camera to document what I was seeing in a way that had not been done before. Being a crew member, I had up-close access that would never be given to an outsider. I was now able to show the hidden side of the fishing industry. The ugly stuff that they don’t want you to see.”
Mesmerized by his blue shark experience, Raymond went on to co-found Rhode Island Shark Diving with his colleague Joe Romeiro. Today, instead of taking part in an unsustainable venture, Raymond is in his ninth season of taking underwater photographers and snorkelers out to sea for face-to-face encounters with blue and mako sharks off the coast of Rhode Island. I have personally been out with his operation and can understand his affinity for the pelagics he encounters.
At the end of the day, we only protect what we love, and we can only fix the wrongs that we are aware of. Raymond’s images will hopefully shed some light on a very destructive industry and get a conversation going about bycatch. Raymond emphasized the images he documented are simply from one person, on one fishing vessel, over the course of one year — 2011. The following year, Raymond retired from fishing, feeling ashamed of a profession he was once proud to be a part of. He is now pleased to focus his time on an ecotourism venture that promotes conservation.
As I chatted with Raymond about his images, he mentioned a recent bycatch video captured by a Rhode Island fisherman that had gone viral, even making the local news. In the video, an endangered great white shark had been pulled onto a fishing vessel — after having been caught inside their fishing net. While the endangered shark was lawfully released, Raymond asserts the majority of bycatch are not that lucky.