Sean Pertwee with monkfish for Fishlove.

Sean Pertwee for Fishlove, via Facebook.

Why does everything always have to be about sex?

A photographic campaign from the UK features dozens of celebrities posing provocatively to raise awareness about the impact of over-fishing. The appropriately titled Fishlove includes men and women, from former X-Files star Gillian Anderson to French guitarist Thomas Dutronc. It’s been around since 2011, and in addition to its media strategy, Fishlove is pushing a petition to the European Parliament to no longer allow deep-sea trawling in the Northeast Atlantic. It’s a well-intentioned, well-resourced campaign that’s bound to get some attention, but its tactics prove the short-sightedness of its theory of change. By taking off their clothes to take a stand against harmful fishing practices, these celebrities actually do their cause a major disservice.

I’ve long been an advocate for better ocean stewardship. I don’t eat seafood, and I strongly believe that the international community needs to get serious about cetacean conservation. But would I turn myself into a sex object to show my love for the sea? No way. The very idea that the best way one could be an advocate for an issue is to transform into a sexualized object is absurd. Activism requires agency. Agency is measured by outcome. Though these celebrities are far from passive, the sensationalism of these images becomes a barrier to engagement, undermining their efficacy even as instruments [non-passive objects] for change. The implicit message of a campaign like this is not “get active,” but instead “look at this.”

If only looking was enough. For Fishlove to fulfill its mission of ending unsustainable fishing practices, it must create real public, political pressure. The photos, though provocative, show no sense of urgency for the issue. A recent Salon.com article about the campaign says it best: “Another day, another semi-nude celebrity photo shoot. But in this case, the stars in question are calling attention not to themselves (well, not entirely to themselves), but to overfishing.” The end.

It’s possible that one day someone will come up with a way to save the ocean with sex. Perhaps then that someone will also be smart enough to recognize the irony in seductively posing with dead fish for a campaign against overfishing.