Oceans have nourished us for thousands of years, but the bounties of our blue planet are ebbing. Photographer Jon Tonks and poet Chris Redmond have bee documenting their encounters with those trying to fish sustainably along England’s south coast.

There are the species above water to consider, too. Sustenance, livelihoods and cultures all fed by the sea. Jon photographs Tom Bawcock’s Eve in Cornwall, when local people share ‘stargazy pie’ to celebrate a famine-ending catch in the 16th century. Chris writes of those who still throw pilchards to the birds, in thanks for guiding boats to the shoals before sonar washed up. And of puffins starving for lack of the sand eels that have been overfished and fed to chickens. 

The answer to how we better sustain communities of life, on and off shore, might be murky. But this honest insight exposes a system sunk by human greed, and floats ideas for turning the tide. 

Collaborators

  • John Tonks

    Jon Tonks

    Photographer

    Jon’s work tells stories about lives shaped by history and geography. In 2014, he won the Vic Odden Award from the Royal Photographic Society for his first book, Empire – exploring four remote British Overseas Territories – and has since documented UK pubs, migrant communities and industrial heritage.

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  • Martin Parr Foundation

    Martin Parr Foundation

    Arts Partner

    Martin Parr Foundation supports emerging, established and overlooked photographers making work focused on Britain and Ireland. The Foundation runs events, workshops and exhibitions, striving to make photography engaging and accessible for all to reflect the diversity of our culture.

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  • Chris Redmond

    Chris Redmond

    Hot Poet

    Chris Redmond is a poet, musician, facilitator and co-director of Hot Poets. The frontman of Tongue Fu, he’s performed in 20 countries on five continents with features on BBC Radio 1, 2, 4, 6Music and Sky Arts. In 2023 he was shortlisted for the Out-Spoken Prize.

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  • Sole of Discretion

    Sole of Discretion

    Environment Partner

    People have lived in balance with ocean ecosystems for thousands of years but the gifts of our blue planet are ebbing, a bountiful tide turned by overfishing, bycatch, and bottom trawling. Sole of Discretion is the first fishmonger in the UK to provide full traceability back to every boat, working with a shoal of fisherfolk between Helford and Eastbourne. Their boats are under 10m long, and 10 times more fuel efficient than larger vessels. Their gear collects coral and rock habitat mapping data, rather than ploughing the seabed. Their methods harvest a range of species and sizes, in balance with natural abundance rather than oversimplified ‘stock’ statuses. Back on land, Sole of Discretion pay pre-agreed prices and discard nothing, then label fish with transparent information on impact. The number of UK small-scale fishers has dived from 10,000 to 2,500 in just ten years: as a Community Interest Company, Sole of Discretion is casting a lifeline to those who still employ sustainable practices, but are punished by unsustainable systems such as quotas, politics and markets. This model was envisaged by a coalition of scientists, fishers, policy makers, restauranteurs, academics, ecologists and lawyers, and marine biology students continue to accompany boats. Their interdisciplinary solution is regenerating interdependent marine ecosystems that rely on the health of the whole – in a leap from the species- specific concerns of existing bodies like the MSC or MCS. As a result, Sole of Discretion is the only UK fishmonger with a Soil Association logo on its packaging, awarded for restoring flourishing communities above and below water.

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