Late last year, Seas At Risk and a group of its members organised an art action that took them and a wood-carved sculpture on a journey from sea to sea, across Europe. The sculpture — the Voice of the Fish — made stops in countries along the way, advocating for marine life and bringing the loss of the ocean’s ecosystems to the surface. The custom wooden sculpture was the work of representational sculptor Jared Bartz and illustrates a woman carrying a fish from the ocean to land.

The sculpture’s journey began underwater in Kiel, Germany in the Baltic Sea. From pollution, to algal blooms and persistent overfishing, the Baltic is in crisis. Below the surface, the sculpture witnessed nature at breaking point and a hostile, deserted ocean – the worst-case outcome of rampant overfishing. With help from BUND, the Voice of the Fish rose from the sea floor to start its journey.

The Voice of the Fish then travelled to Luxembourg for the October meeting of EU fisheries ministers (the AGRIFISH Council). The sculpture watched from the sidelines as ministers set some – but not all – fishing quotas in line with scientific advice  to safeguard depleted fish populations.  These efforts were too little, too late, however, as they failed to protect the Baltic’s declining herring and cod populations or make good on their legal obligations to end overfishing.

The sculpture, undefeated, then moved to La Rochelle, France to alert humans to how interlinked different marine ecosystems are, and how fishing can inadvertently lead to the entanglement and ultimate killing of dolphins in the Bay of Biscay. In a bold and graphic photo exhibition hosted by photographer Giovanni Del Brenna and France Nature Environnement, the Voice of the Fish challenged human apathy to the biodiversity crisis and to by-catch, which kills dolphins by the thousand. Advocates, scientists and Member of the European Parliament Caroline Roose continued the dialogue in a panel discussion.

Emboldened, the Voice of the Fish sculpture journeyed to Vigo, Spain for the sombre 20-year anniversary of the Prestige oil spill – a stark reminder of humans’ destructive legacy on the ocean. In Galicia, the cornerstone of European fisheries, a just transition to small-scale fisheries could lead change across the continent. The sculpture sat in on warm conversations with Ecologistas en Acción that called for selective fishing gear and more sustainable fishing.

The two-month trek across Europe culminated in Sagres, Portugal. There, the Voice of the Fish returned to the sea, but not before urging Europe to commit to truly protect marine areas to make a real difference. The sculpture returned underwater to survey a new restoration site, where Sciaena helped replant 100 soft corals in Portugal’s Atlantic. Whether the sculpture can call the new site home depends on an upcoming public consultation, where locals will choose whether to listen to the Voice of the Fish.

The sculpture was a witness to human destruction. Then, it was an advocate for ocean life. Now, the Voice of the Fish will continue to watch, listen, and challenge humanity to rethink and rebuild our deep connection with the sea. Marine biodiversity is under pressure on all fronts. Fishing cannot continue as usual. The longer decision-makers stall on real ocean protection, the less resilient the ocean will be to climate change. The Voice of the Fish has spoken, and it is up to us to listen.

Relive the coast-to-coast journey by visiting and exploring #VoiceOfTheFish on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.