"A key action to improve visibility of women in the seafood sector is to create events or moments where we can recognise talent in the female labour force. "
Coronavirus has forced us to support & see even greater value in the UK’s food supply and the farmers, growers, food producers and people who fish in our seas. However, before coronavirus made us think even more about traditional food supply chains, Women In the Food Industry had a fascinating discussion with Loren Hiller Senior Commercial Officer at the Marine Stewardship Council about women in the seafood & fishing industry. She gave her personal views about why the industry is so male dominated.
As fishing vessel crews are almost entirely men yet women make up a lot of workers on the land, mending nets or picking shellfish from sand Loren was asked why she thought this tradition has continued into the 21st century and what stops women from moving into sea fishing?
Generally, women tend a play a small role in catching sector but that’s not surprising given that there are several pressures that discourage women from entering the sector. Fishing tends to stand out as an activity where women don’t feel as welcome. I think this has continued into the 21st century for different reasons unfortunately (but I’d love to see it change). Perhaps it’s due to ‘stereotypical’ reasons such as females having an apparent lack of required strength and that fishing is a dangerous livelihood.
There are also the social factors including the need for extra facilitates on board, lack of comfort and the male/female divide. An important point to remember here is the role of women as the support system for their seagoing spouses, which is generally unrecognised and sees more women staying at home to look after the family, therefore not allowing them to pursue a career at sea. When considering the seafood industry as a whole, with fisheries, aquaculture, seafood processing and all related services, women represent half of the total working population worldwide (World Bank, 2012; OECD, 2014) and over 90% of the processing sector are female.
Why if this is true does fishing still in this modern age reflect that it’s a man’s job to do? Rarely do we see the women involved in the fishing sector, particularly in industrial fishing and the primary catch sector. I think it would be great to see more females on board and at sea and alongside that showcasing this more to dispel myths. Anecdotally, a Norwegian fishing vessel owner recently told me they have started hiring more females to work on board and go out on the long fishing trips, which I was really excited about. He said the dynamic has changed and he hopes to see it continue across other vessels.
What can be done to improve women’s visibility in the seafood industry?
A key action to improve visibility of women in the seafood sector is to prioritise gender equality on the seafood industry’s agenda. In many ways, of course, it is now more welcoming for young women to join the seafood industry, but there is still a lot that can be done. While the seafood industry is tends to be dominated by a high number of women, a 2017 report by Women in Seafood International says there is still a strong gendered division of labour where women occupy low revenue jobs and remain partially absent at the other end of the value chain. I think this is one of the biggest challenges we face.
Another key action to improve visibility of women in the seafood sector is to create events or ‘moments’ where we can recognise talent in the female labour force. This is why International Women’s Day is so crucial. I’m excited to see new initiatives moving forward, such as the Women in Fish and Chips event hosted by JJ Foodservice, which aims to promote and connect women working in the Fish and Chip sector. I was honoured to be part of this event, and really enjoyed connecting with other female operators and appreciating how events like this can support women as they grow their business networks. Hopefully there will be more events, like Women in Fish and Chips, across different sectors of the industry.
There are strong reasons for optimism and I am honoured to work with talented, passionate, dynamic and ambitious women in my team at the Marine Stewardship Council. I view my career and role in the industry as a step in the right direction – to break the mould of seafood being male-dominated. I really urge other women to follow their passion and believe in themselves and other women as they pursue their career.
Visit Women in the Food Industry for the full feature on Women in Seafood & the Fishing Industry and also for Loren's thoughts on what can be done to encourage a younger generation to move into the seafood industry.