Bycatch: Poems by Eric Magrane

Artwork by Maria Johnson

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These poems and drawings refer to bycatch in the shrimp trawler industry in the Gulf of California. Bycatch is a term that refers to all species caught that are not the target species, so in this case, everything that is not shrimp. 85 to 90 percent by weight of catch in the trawling industry in the Gulf is bycatch. Our collaboration, a co-produced research project that we are undertaking as part of the Next Generation of Sonoran Desert Researchers 6&6 art-science endeavor, has brought us out on trawlers in the Gulf.

These two poems and drawings are addressed to two of the bycatch species of special concern. As the Shovelnose Guitarfish poem suggests, we witnessed guitarfish as bycatch through our own experiences on a trawler. Our experience of the Pacific Sea Horse, however, was of a preserved specimen in a jar. We thank the field station at Prescott College’s Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies in Bahía de Kino, Sonora, Mexico. Click each image to view in larger format.

Eric Magrane and Maria Johnson



Shovelnose Guitarfish

Rhinobatos productus

Shovelnose guitarfish. Illustration by Maria Johnson.the rhythm of
              the boat rocks

your fins like
             a stratocaster

only quiet, not plugged
             in yet, the amp

then with reverb
             pedals on the boat

deck where you’ll be tossed
             into a basket

maybe it’s better
             than being shoveled

out the hatch
             where the lobos

and pelicanos wait
             though your name

also reminds me
             of picasso

three musicians

this pile of fish
             maybe cubist space

is the best way of approaching it
             this assemblage

on the deck of a boat
             in the gulf of california

where humans take shovels
             like snow shovels clearing a path after a storm

and scrape surplus life out those openings
             at least that is not you

you will be in a basket
             and then onto shore

and maybe into the fish taco
             that I will later order

and I won’t think of your eyes
             eyes with stars for pupils

your soft body
             in my fish-stained

gloves cold hands
             the rhythm of your slow

gestation, more like a bass line
             than lead guitar

or the dumb luck of spatial and temporal overlap
             where you gather

like you’re ready for the nets
             like the nets maybe would be a vacation

from the long maturation

             but the way they drag up everything in their path
             but the way they drag up everything in their path



Pacific Seahorse

Hippocampus ingens

Pacific seahorse, illustration by Maria Johnson.ghost-like
            not on the deck

of the boat but in
            a jar, preserved

in formaldehyde
            this one specimen

bleached white and
            is that your front pouch

filled with little replicas
            of yourself, you

the male who carries
            the babies, hundreds

of little horses
            preserved forever

in non-life, deferred
            to another world

we can fathom
            the numbers, up to ninety

percent population
            decline, little replicas

never to emerge
            as we place you back

on the shelf with the many
            other curiosities




Eric Magrane is the coeditor, with Christopher Cokinos, of The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide (University of Arizona Press, 2016). He is currently completing a Ph.D. in geography at the University of Arizona, where he teaches environmental studies. His website is

Maria Johnson is an illustrator and marine conservationist. For several years she has worked on a shrimp trawler bycatch study in the Gulf of California with Prescott College’s Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies. Her website is

All illustrations © Maria Johnson. All rights reserved. No images may be copied or used without express written consent of the artist. Header photograph of bycatch by Eric Magrane. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.