Written by Frederik Scholaert.
Fishing is often seen as a male activity, especially when it comes to working on board fishing vessels and involving long absences at sea. However, women play an important role in thefisheries sector, especially in small-scale family businesses. Either they are involved in the fishing activity itself, on board or on foot as shellfish gatherers, or they support the business through on-shore activities such as fishing gear preparation and maintenance, transporting fish to auctions, sales, administration, logistics or even the development of tourist activities.
This work is not always recognised. According to a study for the European Commission, the share of unpaid women in fisheries (6.6 %) is almost double their share in total employment (3.8 %). However, this level of employment is an underestimate, as women who are not actively engaged on board fishing vessels are often not visible in the official statistics. A 2018 study collected data from community-led partnerships called ‘Fisheries Local Action Groups’ (FLAGs) that bring together the private sector, local authorities and civil society. Based on a sample of data, the study estimated female employment in FLAG areas at about 13 % of total employment in fisheries.
Women are also very present in other seafood sectors. They represent about a quarter of the aquaculture workforce and about half in the fish processing industry. The figures differ greatly per EU country and region. In Lithuania, the share of female workers in fish processing is 69 %. The share is even higher in specific FLAG areas, it is estimated at 75 % in Costa a Morte in Spain and 90 % in Plodovi Mora in Croatia.
In total, it is estimated that more than 100 000 women were employed in the EU’s fisheries, aquaculture or fish processing sectors in 2014.
Although women make up a significant part of the workforce, they often work in underpaid and low-value positions. In addition, they are under-represented in decision‑making bodies.
The European Parliament has long championed the important role of women in fishing communities, both in the EU and as part of ‘sustainable fisheries partnership agreements’ with non-EU countries. Following its 2014 resolution on specific actions in the common fisheries policy (CFP) to develop the role of women, Parliament adopted a resolution ‘Fishers for the future‘ on 16 September 2021. The resolution highlights the fact that women still lack sufficient economic and social recognition for their role in fisheries, and calls on the European Commission to launch initiatives to recognise their work and secure equal pay between men and women (not least in view of the 2020‑2025 gender equality strategy), support female entrepreneurship and provide EU funding.
In March 2021, in response to a letter from AKTEA, a European network of women in fisheries and aquaculture, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius acknowledged the need for greater recognition of the role of women in fisheries, including in decision-making. The Commissioner highlighted the ongoing efforts to enhance the collection of social data, including data on the role of women, for example in unpaid jobs. These social data would feed into the 2022 review of the common fisheries policy and pave the way for better assessment of the social impacts of fisheries management measures.
In addition, the recent adoption of the fund supporting the common fisheries policy – the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) for 2021‑2027 – allows EU countries to continue to finance measures that support women in the seafood sector. As part of the EMFAF programme, the Commission has also announced that it will launch a call for projects in 2022, to support women in the ‘blue economy’.
The European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries has also reaffirmed its commitment to address gender inequality issues, by organising a debate on ‘gender equality in fisheries‘ on 28 October 2021, during the European Gender Equality Week.