By working with Brian Raymond (a
commercial fisherman from Rhode Island) PIP Photographer Andy Murch was
able to photograph three species of deepwater skates that regularly come
to the surface as bycatch in the squid fishing industry.
The boat that Brian works on mostly trawls for
squid but trawling is an indiscriminant form of fishing so the by-catch
levels are often high. Recently, Brian's skipper has been dragging in
1000ft where there are a number of vulnerable skate species so we worked
out a plan to orchestrate a catch and release photo shoot with some of
the skates that he rescues from the nets. This was a simple way to
acquire some shots of never before photographed species.
ANDY'S JOURNAL NOTES FROM THE ROAD
Brian and his girlfriend Jen met me at a local beach and Brian pulled a
tote of slowly flapping skates out of the back of his truck. When I
found that he had managed to bring not one but three deep sea skate
species I was very excited.
The plan was for me to swim out to clear water and release the animals
on the sand and rocks where I could get some usable ID shots before they
swam away. I was petrified that they would bolt before I could get any
images but that turned out to be the least of my problems.
R.I. is recovering from the worst flood in 200 years which has thrown
millions of gallons of dirty water into inshore coves like the one we
were shooting in. To make matters worse, the day we chose to release the
animals, the weather was far from ideal. Strong winds, lashing rain and
turbulent seas made the swim out from shore rather daunting. I went out
for a test run just with my camera and found the going pretty tough. Due
to a miscommunication I was also considerably underweighted in my
White's Catalyst drysuit.
Unperturbed, I kicked back to shore, found some scrap iron on the beach
and strapped it to my tank. Then, I filled my pockets with rocks and
ventured out again, this time with my camera in one hand and a lobster
trap full of deep sea skates in the other.
Clutching such a voluminous object in rough seas put me in an unexpected
position. I found myself at the mercy of the rip which dragged me out of
the bay into an area that was churning like a washing machine. Looking
down, the visibility was so bad that I couldn't see my camera dangling
at my side, let alone photograph marine life. I tried retreating but I
could barely make any headway back to the beach and I was slowly
drifting sideways onto a patch of submerged rocks that was throwing
extra large waves in my direction.
I tried sinking under the buffeting chop but with all the sand suspended
in the water my drysuit inflator jammed open, lifting me back to the
surface and filling my suit to Michelin Man proportions. I had no choice
other than to disconnect the air hose but as the air trickled out, the
sea trickled in and within a minute or two my suit was completed
Now I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. I'm not one to panic but
I was riding so low in the water that I couldn't tell which way the
shore was. While I was deciding whether I should drop the lobster trap
(making the entire trip to New England a disaster) I spotted Brian
waving from the rocks with a pair of binoculars around his neck. With
new resolve I inched towards shore. Cage in the left hand. Camera in the
right. KICK! Look up. reorient to shore. Head down. KICK!
It was slow going but I made it back into the shallows and dropped the
cage in a sheltered spot to rest. There was no way I was heading out to
sea again so I gently lifted a skate out of its confinement and let it
go. The skate swam around a little and then settled onto the sand,
cupping its body to provide the suction necessary to resist the surge
that was still pulling me around.
By working with a fisheye lens about six inches away from each skate, I
was able to get some images that looked like they were shot in much
clearer water than they really were. After an hour I dragged my wet and
weary bones out of the bay and left the endangered skates to find their
way out to sea.