I’ve always wanted to show how overfishing harms ocean life and fish populations. My photo essay lets you know you can make a difference.

The unsustainable killing of fish demands that consumers become more empathetic. (All photos by Madeleine Steele)

This story shared first prize in the photo category in News-Decoder’s twice-yearly Reporting and Writing Contest. We are publishing all of the winning entries among our Student Posts.

Since I was a small child, I’ve loved the ocean and marine life. When I was in 8th grade, I wanted to make a documentary short film about overfishing in Maine. The project never came together, but this year I was able to bring this idea to life.

Last school term I took a photography class called “Pixels with a Purpose” in which we chose any issue that we thought needed to be discussed in our school community and beyond. I saw this class as an opportunity to fulfill my dream of bringing awareness to overfishing.

I loved how the class gave the art of photography the power to open people’s minds and inspire change. My hope with this particular series is to encourage everyone who sees it to make more sustainable purchases and think more about their impact on the state of marine environments worldwide.

Throughout my series I use images of sushi to make a statement about how harmful eating seafood caught using unsustainable fishing methods is on the local marine ecosystems. I want viewers to think about where they are buying their fish from and if they are supporting the right kinds of practices.

Trawling and fishing with large nets are incredibly harmful practices because they wipe out entire populations of fish, destroy marine ecosystems and collect a lot of by-catch. This image makes a statement against these unsustainable fishing methods.

This image links the suffering of marine ecosystems, declining fish populations and human suffering to evoke empathy in the viewer.

Declining fish populations and damaged marine ecosystems deserve our empathy.

The destruction of marine habitats and fish populations is chaotic and uncontrolled.

Tuna populations have been in serious decline, as well as many other fish popularly used in sushi

This clownfish is not usually killed for food, but because of harmful fishing methods like bottom trawling, the fish and its habitat are frequently killed

People should always keep in mind the power they hold as consumers in fighting overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices.

The reality of commonly accepted fishing practices is gory.

Consumers are what they eat. We are the choices we make. If we support the destruction of the earth’s ecosystem, we become that destruction.

Propaganda and marketing practices used to sell seafood.

A dead skate placed on an old bait shack. Skates easily become by-catch from trawling the sea floor with nets.

Madeleine Steele is in her final year at Westover School in the U.S. state of Connecticut. She is interested in international business, international relations and global affairs. She plans to study international business in The Netherlands next year and to one day start her own international company or eco-tourism company. She grew up mostly in Maine but was born in Zimbabwe and lived in South Africa for several years.

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CultureArtOverfishing demands that we show empathy