A Russian deep-sea trawler engineer's photography sheds light on the fishing industry's bycatch problem. But it's also a mind-bogglingly interesting scroll into the depths of our oceans.
The Russian city of Murmansk is by far the largest city north of the Arctic circle. Given its strategic location at the end of a long, ice-free inlet off the Barents Sea, it is a town of seafarers and fishermen. It is also the home port for Roman Fedortsov, a 38-year old Russian fishing engineer who has recently become an online hit after combining his hobby and his work.
In 2000, Fedortsov obtained a degree in Aquacultural Engineering from the Murmansk State Technical University and chose a life on the seas. For 10 years, he sailed along the coasts of Morocco and Mauritania aboard the large ocean trawler Oleg Naydenov, often away for up to 6 months at a time. "Being away from home and family for such a long time is not easy," he admits, "but such is work."
When the 7.8-ton ship caught fire in a Canary Islands port and sank on April 15th after being towed out to sea, Fedortsov took a break and later found employment on the Korund, a much smaller trawler operating in the Norwegian and Barents seas. Despite the frosty weather, he's relieved that his new fishing missions last only 3 to 3.5 months.
At this point, Fedortsov had already developed a passion for photography and was maintaining a steady Instagram feed where he posted snaps of seascapes, the people he met aboard and on shore, and his beloved home town Murmansk. As he spent more and more time on the seas, he gradually started including pictures of some of the stranger creatures caught in the nets of the trawler, such as sharks or this unfortunate sunfish.
Last year, Fedortsov also opened a Twitter account to reach more people. "I wanted to show people the amazing world of fish and sea creatures, so I began to share more and more pictures," says Fedortsov, who quickly racked up over 100,000 Twitter followers and nearly twice as many Instagram followers who enjoy a speck of salty humor while gawking at picture after picture of slimy deep-sea monsters that wouldn't look out of place in a Giger album or a Lovecraft novel. Such became his popularity that both his Instagram and Twitter accounts were hacked and imitated many times.
When asked about his sudden rise to fame, Fedortsov sounds bashful. "I didn't expect such an overwhelming reaction," he says. "I think a lot of people didn't have the faintest idea of what lives below the surface, and they are intrigued."
Despite entertaining hundreds of thousands of netizens, the sailor's photographs do shed light on one of the fishing industry's major problems: bycatch, or fish unintentionally caught in the trawler's nets.
According to the WWF and as pointed out in last week's article on ocean threats, a staggering amount of marine life—including turtles, dolphins and juvenile fish—is hauled up along with the desired species before being discarded overboard dead or dying.
Fedortsov recognizes that bycatch is a disaster both for the oceans and the fishing industry, and is quick to add that the fishermen by no means aim to catch these creatures, whether for fame or profit.
"No-one aboard the trawler is happy when such species end up in our nets," he explains, "we are legally required to throw the fish back into the water whether it will live or not. It really saddens me but it seems inevitable in this type of fishery, and I won't hide it."
While the Russian isn't easily fazed after twelve years on a deep-sea trawler, he says he is especially upset when a frilled shark (Chlamydoselachus anguineus), which he dubs 'a living fossil', or a chimaera (Chimaeridae) ends up in his nets. "They're my favorite 'monsters'."