Fish are women's work too

Fishers, like farmers, are not just men. Millions of women around the world work, paid or unpaid, in the fisheries sector. Although women are mainly involved in the tasks that come before and after the fish are hauled out of the water, they may also be there for the catch or the harvest.

Bangladesh: a young girl makes a fishing net
FAO/17243/E. Amalore

India: women vendors use new aluminum fish pots
FAO/17234/K. Vijaykumar

Ghana: smoking fish at the market
FAO/18446/P. Cenini

Thailand: fish seller at Kanchanaburi market
FAO/18015/T. Janssen

At the artisanal level, their preparatory work includes making and mending nets, baskets and pots, baiting hooks and providing services to the fishing boats. They practise their own fishing both for commercial and subsistence purposes, often from canoes and in areas close to their settlement. They also collect prawn larvae and fish for fingerlings to stock aquaculture ponds, and attend the ponds. They harvest seaweeds and shellfish and often work alongside their menfolk at sea.

As in other fields, women are often called on when times are hard and wages for other crew members cannot be paid. Bearing primary responsibility for feeding the family, women may also turn to fishing or fish-farming as a source of food and additional income. One woman's day in Sierra Leone shows the woman fishing in the local pond from 4 to 5.30 in the morning and from 5 to 6 at night.

Women's most prominent role in fisheries, both artisanal and industrial, is at the post-harvest and processing and marketing stages. In developing countries, they are there when the fish are landed on the beach, and they sort, clean, dry and smoke fish and take it to market. They have the chance to keep unmarketable or lower value species for the family pot. In Western Africa and in Asia, up to 80 percent of seafood is marketed by women.

Industrial fisheries change much of this. Synthetic factory-made nets replace hand-made ones and the fish are landed at large ports, already frozen and bound straight for processing plants. Because of this women are increasingly employed in fish factories. In India, 25 000 young girls from the State of Kerala work in shrimp factories for several months every year.

In this section
Making an income from fisheries

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Preserving the catch in Mauritania
In Guinea, a women's group gets new fish ovens

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