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A Prayer to Iemanjá

Collapsing Fisheries in Northeastern Brazil

Trawling these aquamarine waters twenty-five years ago, Brazilian fishermen rarely had a bad day. The southern Atlantic was believed to be underfished, its bounty nearly inexhaustible. But today, fishermen commonly return from long days at sea hauling just a couple baskets of shrimp and small fish. Due to overfishing and rampant destruction of the area’s mangrove forests, populations of high-value species like spiny lobsters, swordfish and tuna teeter on the brink of collapse as the entire marine ecosystem careens down a bottomless carnival ride.

As they grapple with the financial precarity that attends ever-shrinking catches in an increasingly globalized marketplace—combined with a dwindling number of jobs in fields like construction and agriculture, which used to supplement their incomes in lean times—the men and women of these tight-knit communities are caught somewhere between a relatively traditional way of life and Brazil’s race to become an economic superpower. It’s to their plight that I dedicate these pictures.