Postcards from Brian – Spain’s Mattanza

As he photographs our oceans for National Geographic, Brian Skerry often dives in to fishing traditions around the world. Brian recently sent us this postcard from Spain, where he’s photographing a yearly practice called mattanza. For more than a thousand years, Spanish fishermen have set up a maze of nets known as almadraba in the Strait of Gibraltar—the narrow stretch of water between Spain and Morocco. The nets catch Atlantic bluefin tuna as they swim through the strait to return to their Mediterranean spawning grounds.

This dramatic photo shows Brian snapping pictures as fishermen haul in their nets, laden with large, beautiful tuna. (Brian has been underwater with tuna as well—check out his awestruck account of that experience.) The largest Atlantic bluefin can grow to be almost 15 feet long and weigh over 1000 pounds, and they swim at up to 40 mph. Just like Brian, their travels take them from one side of the ocean to the other. Atlantic bluefin spawn in two separate locations—the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico—but scientists have tracked many tuna crossing the Atlantic, suggesting eastern and western tuna populations probably aren’t distinct.

Fishermen here in New England catch bluefin tuna, too. They most commonly use a rod and reel in their search for the lucrative fish, which can fetch thousands of dollars apiece. Atlantic bluefin tuna are a highly depleted species—estimates suggest stocks have declined nearly 70 percent since 1970, although recent indicators suggest that the population may be rebuilding. Because of their migratory nature, Atlantic bluefin are carefully regulated by a transatlantic group called the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

We love seeing our blue planet through Brian’s travels, whether it’s bluefin tuna in Spain, farmed carp in China, or the incredible abundance of sea life right here in New England.

Postcard from Brian – Wujin, China

Check out this great photo of Brian on assignment for National Geographic. This image shows Brian on a boat at a wholesale market in Wujin, China – photographing the off-loading of bream carp that are raised in pens on Gehu, Lake. China has been using aquaculture in some form for over 2000 years, and they currently have the lion’s share of the global aquaculture market.  Today, Chinese aquaculture production makes up over half of the world’s total. Over 90% of the world’s aquaculture production comes from Asia and the Pacific region.

New England has its own history of aquaculture – while not anywhere close to the size of China’s, it is expanding. We have a growing shellfish industry, which mostly produces clams, mussels, and oysters. New England’s saltwater finfish aquaculture is mostly farmed Atlantic salmon in Maine. We also have freshwater producers raising trout and salmon in hatcheries throughout New England. Those fish are raised to certain size then released to streams and ponds. Read this recent blog by former CLF intern Madi Gamble about the state of New England’s aquaculture industry to learn more.

We are excited to keep in touch with Brian as he travels the world, making his beautiful pictures. But we are always glad when he comes back home and joins us on our journey beneath New England’s waves.

Join Me on the New England Ocean Odyssey!

My love affair with New England’s ocean started when I was a little boy, playing at the water’s edge on the beaches we visited within driving distance from my Uxbridge, Massachusetts home. I learned to scuba dive in the waters off of Cape Cod, Rhode Island and New Hampshire and discovered my life’s calling in their bracing, indigo depths. I had all the passion then to be an underwater photographer, but none of the experience, so New England’s waters became my proving grounds.

Today, my assignments for National Geographic Magazine take me to spectacular places to document the wonders of and mounting threats to our world’s oceans. I’m privileged to be able to provide a view into this underwater world that is so vital to humankind, yet so remote. New England’s ocean, known as the Gulf of Maine, is no exception. Dark, cold and deep, it is among the most mysterious reaches of our planet.

Have you ever wondered what’s down there? If you dive or fish in New England, you know some of its natives: our sacred cod, the fierce-looking Atlantic wolffish, the endearing grey seals and the greatly endangered Northern right whales. But few have explored the depths of the Gulf of Maine, home to some of the world’s most biodiverse underwater ecosystems, including Stellwagen Bank, Cashes Ledge, Jordan’s Basin and Jeffreys Ledge. These special places and their inhabitants need to be seen to be believed—and that’s the idea behind the New England Ocean Odyssey.

When the folks at Conservation Law Foundation asked me to help them in their efforts to raise awareness of these special places in the Gulf of Maine, I jumped at the opportunity. Of course, I’m excited to show people that there is more to New England’s ocean than they might think; the tropics don’t have exclusive rights to colorful, charismatic and magnificent marine life! As an explorer, I’m also drawn by the unknown. The steep canyon walls, underwater mountains, kelp forests and other unique features of New England’s ocean are hard to get to and so, present an enticing mystery just waiting to be discovered.

This spring, I’ll begin this five year odyssey, diving with friends and colleagues in locations near shore and far out to sea. I invite you come along as we welcome our whales back to New England waters, swim with sharks, uncover the evidence of human exploration and reveal areas where humans have never ventured. I can’t promise that we will discover something totally new, but you’ll surely see New England’s ocean in a whole new way. I hope you’ll join me on this journey beneath New England’s waves.