Fisherwomen around the world contribute to an estimated 3 million tonnes of marine fish and seafood per year, a new study at the University of British Columbia finds.
Women take part in catching, processing, as well as the marketing of fish around the world. It’s a common scene in the island and coastal nations worldwide, where women bring their woven baskets and plastic buckets to scoop up small fish and dig clams in the exposed seabed. Fisherwomen can even be the foundation of food security in the poorest areas as they bring home healthy protein when some sources fail, but they have often been ignored by policymakers and researchers. They contribute significantly to livelihood and food security in different regions but their contributions are often unnoticed.
Calculating the value of the marine fish and seafood that women catch per year
UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries’ postdoctoral fellow Sarah Harper, who is also the lead author of the study, said that their team used various sources, including local experts, national databases, newspaper articles, and peer-reviewed content to estimate how much fisherwomen around the world are catching in all regions and countries. After coming up with an estimate of 3 million tonnes of marine fish and seafood, they then calculated the value to be around US$5.6 billion per year. This means that women contribute to about 12% of the landed value of the world’s small-scale fisheries catches.
The authors added that some invertebrates and fish that women catch go to feed their families and themselves while some are sold to the local markets. Considering the economic impact that fisherwomen around the world create out of their catches, it adds up to about $17 billion per year. That amount is even beyond the initial market sale. Harper added that if they adjusted the values to consider the differences between countries in terms of their purchasing power, the economic impact of fisherwomen around the world would be near $26 billion.
Harper went on to say that although there is growing attention about the role of women in fisheries worldwide, their numbers show the significance of their contributions, which are often “undervalued” and “overlooked.”
“The numbers may come as a surprise,” she said. This is because fishing has long been considered strictly for males. Co-author Daniel Pauly, who is also a principal investigator of UBC’s Sea Around US initiative, likewise mentioned that some fisherwomen choose to be called “fishermen” so their work is counted just as much as the fishermen. So, when researchers and policymakers would search for participation statistics, what they see is that there are no women in the fishing industry. That is “not true,” he added.
Why the need to highlight women’s contribution to the fisheries
Fisheries Economics Research Unit’s head Rashid Sumaila, who is also a co-author of the study, explained that knowing women’s contribution in the fisheries is important in contexts where their women’s income is disproportionate to their household provisioning and their kids’ education and health. Harper and the team hope that their findings will be used to create policies that will promote the participation and contributions of women in the fishing sector.
Sex-disaggregated statistics on employment in the fisheries
In a 2017 study titled “Engendering Statistics for Fisheries and Aquaculture,” author Jennifer Gee from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Kathrin Bacher published a sex-disaggregated statistic on employment in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors from 2009 to 2014. It shows that the average number of women engaged in fisheries and aquaculture in the reporting countries amounted to 19% of the total workforce. The data accounted only for 173 countries with reported or estimated data. In 2014, a total of 34.2 million people (67%) were engaged in the primary sector of capture fisheries and 17 million people (33%) in aquaculture. The majority (79%) of people in the workforce were men. There were also 15% of women in the fishery sector and the 6% recorded were sex-unspecified.
Employment numbers in fisher and aquaculture sectors, by region and gender
The employment numbers in the fishery sector by region and gender for the years 2009 to 2014 are as follows: Africa (548,807 or 13% women, 3,395,680 or 78 % men, and 381,655 or 9 % unspecified), Americas (250,130 or 16 % women, 977,327 or 61 % men, and 371,405 or 23 % unspecified), Asia (4,417,886 or 16 % women, 22,505,040 or 80 % men, and 1,077,019 or 4 % unspecified), Europe (6,182 or 3 % women, 202,270 or 81 % women, and 40,885 or 16 % unspecified, and Oceania (7,607 or 21 % women, 26,786 or 74 % men, and 1,649 or 5 % unspecified).
The employment numbers of women in the aquaculture sector, on the other hand, are as follows: Africa (12,236 or 7 %), Americas (7,284 or 3 %), Asia (2,239,364 or 14 %), Europe (14,085 or 19 %), and Oceania (685 or 12%).
The highest employment globally by sector in 2014 is for inland waters fishing (56% total number of fishers, including women), marine fishing (17%), and marine coastal fishing (13%). About 70% of reported women engaged in inland water fishing followed by marine fishing (17%), marine coastal fishing (5.8%), subsistence (1%), and unspecified (7%).
As for fisherwomen’s working times in the fishery sector, 29% of them are full time, 38% are part-time, 24% are occasional, and 9% have an unspecified status. In aquaculture, 51% of women in the sector are working fulltime, 45% have an unspecified status, and 3% work part-time.
As for the seafood and fish produced in 2013, scientific online publication Our World in Data shares that it comprised the following: cephalopods (3.89 million tonnes), mollusks (17.82 million tonnes), crustaceans (12.61 million tonnes), marine fish (10.79 million tonnes), demersal fish (20.77 million tonnes), pelagic fish (36.64 million tonnes), and freshwater fish (52.34 million tonnes).
Some women also fish to unwind and relax or they simply want to spend time outdoors with their family and friends. But aside from the social aspect of fishing, more women are now braving long hours and rough weather at sea to catch loads of fish although they may just not be visible in the participation or labor statistics. It’s a good thing that some nations are already working to address the gender gaps in the fishing sector.