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Photographer Ocean Voices: Interview with Stephen McGowan

“Not everyone has the opportunity to see certain components of the fishing industry or the marine environment.... By sending my photos to the Marine Photobank, it gives viewers such opportunities they might not have otherwise had.”

– Stephen McGowan Fisheries Researcher, Australian Maritime College
Mcgowan In Focus Photo Montage
Steve Spring
McGowan’s photos of a bottom trawler’s haul of orange roughy plus loads of bycatch are quite popular images on the Marine Photobank. In fact, these images have appeared in numerous news stories worldwide. As a researcher in the honors program at the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania, he has photographed a diversity of subjects such as fishing methods including squid jigging, shark and lobster fishing and bottom trawling as well as images of the live fish trade, fish markets, the impacts of cyclones and larval ecology.

You get a sense that he must carry his camera everywhere. This, combined with his desire to promote more sustainable use of marine resources mean that his images always tell a good story.

Stephen McGowan's Photos >

Marine Photobank: What is the most significant ocean conservation issue that you feel needs to be addressed?


Orange roughy and bycatch.
Stephen McGowan / Marine Photobank

Steve Spring

Stephen McGowan: Shifts in ecosystem functioning as a result of anthropogenic pollution, habitat destruction and overfishing are of high significance given our reliance on continental shelf fisheries for the majority of catch. It’s uncertain what impact changes in ecosystem characteristics will have on recruitment of fish and on more sensitive marine communities impacted on by humans. I guess this may seem broad but I think it reflects my view that a more ecosystem-based approach needs to be taken when it comes to managing and conserving the marine environment.

MPB: How does your photography reflect this concern?

SM: I just hope that my pictures can be used to educate or raise awareness of issues relating to the marine environment.

MPB: You have been one of the Marine Photobank’s highest contributing photographers recently. Can you tell me a bit about how you developed your interest in conservation photography?

SM: I am interested in all things pertaining to the marine environment. I take pictures to document anything of interest to myself including fishing conquests, images of fishing activities and vessels, as well as images relating to my studies. I document my research pictorially, recording samples and equipment for future recollection or to include in research presentations.

MPB: It seems that you have a perceptive sense of the types of imagery needed by our members including shots of fishing methods, seafood markets, the live fish trade and even larval ecology. Your image of a bottom trawler’s haul filled with orange roughy and loads of by-catch is one of the most popular images on the Marine Photobank. What compels you to take these shots?


Before and After a Cyclone
Stephen McGowan / Marine Photobank

Steve Spring

SM: All the pictures I take are of interest to me or are taken as part of my studies & research. I like to take pictures of marine organisms I haven’t seen before so I can identify or examine them later. Even when I go fishing I take pictures of everything I catch because most of the fish I catch are released so the images are time, place and catch records.

As a part of my undergraduate degree, I participated in cruises on the Fisheries Training Vessel ‘Bluefin’ in which I photographed various catches of demersal trawl-caught fish, among other things. I am also interested in boats and the various design features found on fishing vessels, and often stop at harbors just to take pictures of fishing boats and larger ships.

I took the pictures of zooplankton and fish larvae as part of my honors research project at the Australian Maritime College. Some images were taken earlier while I was working for Dr James Haddy (Fisheries ecologist, reproductive biologist AMC) sorting samples taken from small estuaries on the East Coast of Tasmania.

MPB: Your images allow the viewer to have a glimpse into aspects of the fishing industry and the ocean realm as whole that few people rarely see. Is this what motivates you to send your photos to the Marine Photobank?

SM: Not everyone has the opportunity to see certain components of the fishing industry or the marine environment. The Marine Photobank is a means of accessing images that are specific to the marine environment and marine conservation. By sending my photos to the Marine Photobank, it gives viewers such opportunities they might not have otherwise had.

MPB: If you could travel to any part of the planet to take photos for the Marine Photobank, where would you go?

SM: I would like to travel to the Southern Ocean where I could take pictures of fishing practices in that region so as to document fishing activities and methods. Not many people know how much effort is going into fishing in this remote and relatively unexploited region of the ocean. It’s probably the last place on earth to be fished and there is a window of opportunity to study virgin fish stocks and manage them properly before we repeat the same mistakes made elsewhere.

MPB: Any comments for other researchers regarding the importance of taking pictures of their research and sharing them with conservationists, educators, other researchers and the media?

SM: There is a paucity of images pertaining to the marine environment, particularly those of value to students and other researchers. I try and accompany my images with information so that anyone who wishes to use them has some background knowledge allowing them to either better understand or appreciate the image. It will also enable the media to use the image in a more informed manner thus increasing the power of the image.

SquidJiggingFishing Vessel

Squid Jigging Fishing Vessel
Stephen McGowan / Marine Photobank

Steve Spring

MPB: Any last comment or thoughts about ocean conservation photography that you would like to share?

SM: Without better understanding the marine environment it would to difficult to attain better conservation outcomes. Photography is a good way to put forward issues of conservation significance and through MPB you have the opportunity to accompany images with specific information thus enabling users to use images in an informed manner.

MPB: You don’t seem to be a professional photographer. What are you future career goals and will they involve photography and visuals?

SM: Once I finish my honours degree I will be looking for a position as a researcher or fisheries scientist, although I may opt to further my knowledge through higher degree. There are also several opportunities in government departments that offer both research opportunities and management/governance roles in the fisheries and marine environment sector.

MPB: Stephen McGowan, Thanks!