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Photographer Ocean Voices: Interview with Valerie Craig


“In my recent work for the Seafood Choices Alliance, I’ve found that it’s critical to have great imagery. There’s a great lack of positive, reinforcing imagery in the seafood industry. We’re selling sustainability, encouraging people in the seafood industry to change their practices [and make them more sustainable].”

– Valerie Craig, Seafood Choices Alliance (SeaWeb)

Valerie Craig, of SeaWeb’s Seafood Choices Alliance, is a dedicated contributor to the Marine Photobank. Her images highlight the current strides in the fishing industry to bring sustainable seafood to our table. Her photos highlight sustainable fisheries and fishing practices in the United States and the UK encouraging people at all levels of the seafood supply chain to take the first important steps towards protecting fisheries for generations to come. In her interview, Valerie speaks about her passion for photography and the importance of bridging the gap between the fishing industry and conservationists through her work with the Alliance.

Alaskan king crab pot - VCraig - MPB

Fishermen unload a red Alaskan king crab pot
Valerie Craig / Marine Photobank

Steve Spring

See more of Valerie’s sustainable seafood photographs

Read Valerie's photographer profile

Valerie Craig, a Marine Photobank photographer, works with SeaWeb’s Seafood Choices Alliance. Through her work, she has had the opportunity to visit and witness some of the best, most sustainable fisheries in the world. Her images provide positive examples of what fisheries, markets and aquaculture facilities CAN be: healthy, sustainable, and ecologically responsible.

MPB: Valerie, you have been one of the Marine Photobank’s top contributing photographers in recent months. Can you tell me a bit about how you developed your interest in conservation photography?

VC: I’ve had a camera ever since my mom trusted me to carry one, pretty early, I had one of those old disk cameras that gave these grainy images – it was great! I think it’s been particularly in the last 4-5 years, as I’ve been traveling more, that I’ve become more interested in photography - that, and meeting my husband, as he takes phenomenal pictures from his travels around the world. Most recently, my mom bought us a great camera as a wedding gift. With a better camera, and the increased number of trips I’ve been able to take through work, I’ve had the opportunity to take great pictures on a fishing boat, in a market, or, on my most recent trip, up in Alaska at the [Alaskan king crab] processing plant. So I’ve had the opportunity to hone my photographic skills in great places that gave me the opportunity to take conservation-related photos, ending up with these images.

AK King crab - Valerie Craig - Marine Photobank

Alaskan red king crab
Valerie Craig / Marine Photobank

Steve Spring

MPB: How does conservation photography tie in with your work at SeaWeb’s Seafood Choices Alliance?

VC: In my recent work for the Alliance, I’ve found that it’s critical to have great imagery, as there’s a great lack of positive, reinforcing imagery in the seafood industry. We’re selling sustainability, encouraging people in the seafood industry to change their practices [and make them more sustainable]. In everything we do, whether in a conference or otherwise, we’ll need images that convey ideas and ideals of the business of sustainability. Is it about going out to sea? Working in a plant that only processes sustainably fished species? Whatever it is, we need a bank of images to work from, and that’s a huge challenge.

MPB: What types of images do you need to promote sustainable fishing?

VC: There aren’t many [photos] out there that that aren’t negative, about wasteful fishing or unsustainable practices. We highlight the good things rather than point out the bad things in the industry, and we need images to support that work. An image is worth a thousand words, right? – that’s the old cliché – and I think it’s true! Be it for a brochure, our Web site, whatever, we are able to capture an idea that could be really broad and complicated in a single image, and if it’s right, it works! For example, in the case of sustainable shrimp farming, we want to be able to highlight the shrimp farm. But we also want to be able to have images of the final product, fish on the plate, because we work with restauranteurs, chefs and restaurants that want images of food that looks good. We work with food media, where the images will be of plated items, but we also work with trade media, where it’s more about what’s happening on the farm, on the dock, or on the boat at sea.

MPB: So for you, the really important part of conservation photography is the positive reinforcement of sustainability, in addition to the negative reinforcement of bad practices?

VC: Exactly. I think that the difficult situation that we’re often in is that there’s a lot of photography that provides the negative reinforcement, and those are actually easier to come by. Particularly with new businesses that are just starting to consider sustainability, we need the positive reinforcement first. We need something that will encourage them to come to us and reach out and be willing to move together towards more sustainable practices. We absolutely need to use positive reinforcement in the early stages. They see the negative images on their own, but we can provide them with the positive ones.

Baby hawksbill turtle swims in water juxtaposed by hand - V Craig - MPB

A baby hawksbill turtle swims in a pool in a hatching facility.
Valerie Craig / Marine Photobank

Steve Spring

MPB: Most of the images that you’ve contributed to the Marine Photobank have been these positive images of sustainable fisheries and markets. What industries are important to be highlighting right now? Who is doing really good work these days?

VC: The seafood industry is complicated because it has so many components to it, and it has a very long supply chain. We try to highlight the good actors at every stage of the supply chain. So, it might not be that we highlight processing, we’re just going to highlight the processor who works with sustainable products. It was great for us to be at UniSea in Alaska, because they’re working with great fishermen, with great product, and they’re honestly concerned about the sustainability of the resource. With aquaculture, it’s a little bit different, and can be exciting in that we can get farm-specific. It would be the same in fishing if you wanted to go out to a single boat or talk to a single fishermen. With the farms, you can find a really stellar actor, the one who has the best practices. By holding these up, we are able to highlight not only their work but also highlight what can happen for others in that sector of the industry if they make the change. If you find a sustainable shrimp farm, that’s imagery that you want out there, because, in general, the public is only exposed to images of unsustainable operations. We’re able to say, look, it is possible and don’t just trust my word, here’s some images that actually point that out.

MPB: We’ve been talking a lot about sustainable fishing. Can you tell me a little about your history with and interest in sustainable fishing?

VC: I came to SeaWeb after finishing my master’s at Yale. My interest from the beginning in college was international law and policy, specifically on environmental issues. In my mind, some of the biggest global issues are ocean issues. In grad school, I did some research on economic tools for environmental benefits and a big tool was the transferable quota. Transferable quotas can be great tools for environmental benefits, although they can be quite controversial. It was in doing some research in fishing industries in New Zealand, Australia and the EU, which operate under very different systems, that I became really passionate about this subject – you can’t talk about policy and legislation without talking about fishermen, and the connectedness between law, environment and culture is as important as it is exiting for me.

Hundreds of pounds of Alaskan king crab are offloaded from the fishing vessel - V Craig - MPB

A fisherman offloads Alaskan king crab from a vessel and into the factory for processing.
Valerie Craig / Marine Photobank

Steve Spring

This opportunity to work for SeaWeb and the Seafood Choices Alliance came up a few years ago, and it’s been a great place to pursue these interests for me. The Alliance has a very different model from other non-profit organizations. In particular, SeaWeb, being communications-based, is different from other non-government organizations. I like the SeaWeb’s strategy of targeted efforts for the biggest benefit.

With the Seafood Choices Alliance, our focus is on being the bridge between the conservation community and industry. Those two groups have been very polarized for a long time, and there’s no reason for them to be, especially for an industry like fishing. If you sell fish, and you are selling fish that are unsustainably caught, or are destroying fish habitat in the way they’re caught, or are not sustainably farmed, your business is not sustainable. The arguments are there, and they’re compelling! Knowing that you can broker relationships between these groups – that’s an exciting place to be. We are often the door that people in the industry are willing to open. We’ve also built trust within the conservation community, because we know that we don’t, ourselves, have all the answers. We can move the issue of sustainability forward with this type of networking, and I find that very exciting.

The fun part about working with the Marine Photobank is to get to spread the word, getting to show the world, about the positive steps being taken at all levels of the seafood industry. We’ve been hearing some very scary news lately – 90% of the big fish are gone, wild stocks will be fished out by 2048… we could easily get very depressed. However, there are good fishermen, good markets, good restaurants that are doing good work, with good fishing and buying practices. It doesn’t have to be this bad! It can get better, there are solutions out there. As long as we start moving today towards solutions, fisheries won’t collapse! We can make it work.

MPB: Valerie, we at the Marine Photobank would like to thank you for all of your contributions, and the chance to talk today! Thanks for allowing us to help you get those images out to the public, for people who want to use them for campaigns that promote sustainability and inform the public about the fact that there are really great options out there.

VC: Thanks!