Maggie Shannon Fishing for Sharks
Unaccompanied Female is a new series of stories here, highlighting intrepid women around the world and a solo trip they’ve taken. Through a female perspective we explore how travel changes and moves us, and look at the stories we’re drawn to telling. This time we have photographer, Maggie Shannon, on her time out at sea with shark fishermen.
The whole crew of the Swamp Yankee with their catch.
“I took this portrait of Captain Todd Rossi the first year I covered the tournament, before I went out on his boat. A few months later I found him on Facebook and messaged him asking if I could go out on the Swamp Yankee with his team and take photos. He later teasingly accused me of Facebook stalking.” -Maggie Shannon
FISHING FOR SHARKS
What was the Swamp Yankee trip you did?
The Swamp Yankee trip was my 2nd time shooting the Monster Shark Tournament, a yearly fishing competition in Newport, Rhode Island. The tournament had been held in my hometown on Martha’s Vineyard and I grew up going every summer.
I had gone the year before and shot at the weigh-in by the harbor. This happened in the late afternoon when the teams of fishermen would bring in what they caught that day. The crew running the tournament would use a hook to hoist the shark up to a large scale and swing it out of the boat and over the crowd to weigh it. After it was measured, a team of marine biologists would cut it up for samples.
I loved those images, gore and all, but it felt like the project needed some action and I was extremely curious what happened on the boats while they were out fishing all day. So when a photo editor at the New Yorker said go for it, I went! I contacted a captain I met while shooting the weigh-in and he said I could come along.
Was this the first big solo trip you’ve taken?
Yes I think it was. I usually have a friend or my boyfriend come with me on shoots to help out with equipment or just be there for emotional support. But the captain said there was only room for one person so that was that!
What was your inspiration to do this trip? Did you have any specific goals?
When I went, I had just finished my MFA thesis at SVA which looked at the impact the filming of Jaws had on my hometown. Those images are very dreamy, shot with a 4×5 field camera that takes a long time to set up and take a picture. I wanted to shoot the tournament for that project but it just didn’t work out with timing and almost seemed too obvious. I lost the 4×5 when I graduated and started shooting with a very different set up that seemed more suited to this type of event, fast and dirty.
I’ve been obsessed with the movie Jaws since I was a kid so I had a lot of those visual references in my head as I was shooting. But the number one goal to photograph a live shark.
Thick metal line that the team used. It was less likely to be cut by the shark’s teeth.
A crew member untangles the line from a hook. The balloons are used like bobbers, to spot it when the shark takes the line.
A crew member reeling in the shark using a waist harness. Though it didn’t take too long to bring the shark in, the shark put up a fight.
Did you have any apprehensions about going out “alone”?
Oh yes tons! I don’t think I slept the night before driving down. Going out on a boat with a bunch of guys I had met briefly the year before was pretty nerve wracking.
What was the best part of the trip?
The best part was the first time one of the crew yelled “shark on the line!” And the team jumped into action. It was after hours of waiting and such a crazy thing to see. Also seeing a shark move through the water was incredible, they’re really beautiful creatures.
What was the worst part?
The waiting around was pretty awful. The sun was super hot and there wasn’t a lot of shade on the boat. Also, since we were packed into such a tiny space, I was next to the guy chopping up the chum which was pretty fragrant.
The crew relaxes while waiting for something to bite. A ton of beer, cigarettes and hostess cupcakes were consumed during this trip!
One of the big scary hooks that the team used. It made me nervous just sitting on deck like that so I took a picture.
A bucket of chum, which was a mixture of puppy chow, chopped up butter fish and a store-bought frozen mixture of dead fish. It smelled horrible!
Did you ever feel unsafe?
The only time I felt slightly unsafe was during the first few hours when they weren’t catching anything. Women are considered unlucky to have aboard and I got a little nervous. Totally unfounded though! I think the heat just started to get to me.
What advice do you have for solo female travelers going out on adventures that might not necessarily seem too female friendly?
Do it! This was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far and I would’ve really regretted it if I hadn’t gone. But make sure people know where you are. I told people where I was going and what the timeline was so they knew to look out for me if I didn’t check in after the trip.
What is the biggest thing you have learned about yourself while working on the project?
I learned that I’m not as shy as I thought! Also, to not always listen to my mom (sorry mom). She said not to go!
Who is the most memorable person you met while doing it?
The entire crew of the Swamp Yankee was great! Besides that one little heat stroke moment, I felt totally safe and like I had a bunch of older brothers for the day. I was teased quite a bit!
What did you learn about fishermen/being out at sea?
These guys have so much respect for the ocean and sharks. This type of fishing is a hobby for them. They’re not out on the ocean every day doing this for a living, which might contribute to this attitude. But really, this type of fisherman isn’t the problem when it comes to the issues affecting our oceans. The fishing industry has a ton of terrifying problems.
The final catch! A Mako shark, not big enough to bring into the weigh-in for the tournament but big enough to eat.
A crew member spotted this tiny little fin off the side of the boat. This shark didn’t end up taking the bait but it was so crazy to see that iconic shape.
Did the trip change you in any way?
I think it made me braver and more willing to take chances.
If you could go traveling with anyone (living or dead) who would you choose and where would you go?
I’d love to drive around and explore the south with Sally Mann! That’d be so cool!
Have you traveled on your own since then? To where and for what?
A couple times for assignments but never like this trip. I think it’s time for another one!