General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean - GFCM

Empowering young women to lead a sustainable aquaculture sector in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea


Last week, the GFCM organized a training for young women from the Mediterranean and the Black Sea region on sustainable aquaculture practices, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture of Tunisia and with local communities and farmers. 

The seven-day training, which began on September 5, took 21 participants, selected from among 150 applicants and hailing from 16 different countries, across Tunisia on a tour of some of the country’s most successful and innovative aquaculture farms. Activities included expert presentations, hands-on feeding and harvesting of fish, washing and repairing of nets and snorkeling to observe and identify aquatic species. 

On the left participants arriving at "El bibane" Island in Zarzis, on the right participants snorkeling by the aquaculture cages in Monastir. ©GFCM/Sahbi Dorai

Organized within the framework of the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA 2022), proclaimed by the United Nations to raise global awareness of the sector, the training shined a spotlight on small-scale aquaculture farms and their role in food security and sustainability. It strove to equip young women with new knowledge and skills to support their full and effective participation as leaders at all levels of decision-making in the aquaculture sector. Properly recognizing the important role played by women in the industry is among the priorities of the GFCM 2030 Strategy for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture

“Women play a vital role in fisheries and aquaculture all the way along the value chain. They rear and process fish, stock ponds and perform research, helping to support food security across the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. We have to support women in gaining knowledge and progressing in this sector” said Houssam Hamza, GFCM Aquaculture Officer.  

During the training’s opening ceremony, participants were introduced to the GFCM toolbox for the development of aquaculture and the findings of the latest edition of FAO’s flagship publication The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) 2022 were presented. Also featured was an exhibition of paintings by local female artists.  

In fact, painting and creative expression were themes that followed the young women throughout the training. Every evening, a three-hour workshop inspired by IYAFA offered a space for women to project their thoughts, feelings and ideas onto the canvas. The participants broke into small groups and worked under the watchful eye of painter Ayoub Zeremdini to perfect their technique and convey their visions of the aquaculture sector. The painter valued the opportunity to pay tribute to the GFCM’s special focus on sustainable aquaculture and to the contributions of young people and women to the sector. 

On the left, the Opening ceremony in Tunis, on the right the participants painting together. ©GFCM/Sahbi Dorai

At the opening ceremony, the gathered participants also listened to a speech from Maria Damanaki, former European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. “The aquaculture sector is thriving, women already play a great part in it, they are the majority of the workforce,” she said. “But what we really need is to have more women in leading roles and making decisions for the sector. This is why proper education, learning and training are very important, and this initiative organized by the GFCM is very important for these young women and for their future.” 

Discovering finfish farms and the unique biodiversity of the Kuriat Islands  

The training’s first field trip brought participants from the fishing port of Teboulba, located in the Monastir governate, to nearby aquaculture farms raising seabass and seabream to learn on site about the different types of cages used for both species. They also closely observed and participated in maintenance operations, feeding, net changing, harvesting and mooring. 

Eighteen kilometers off the coast in Monastir Bay, the women discovered the unique ecosystem of the Kuriat Islands, known as a hotspot of biodiversity in the Mediterranean. It hosts large posidonia meadows (Posidonia oceanica) and is an important nesting site for the region’s loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta).

Hatching of "Caretta Caretta" in Kuriat Island, Monastir. ©GFCM/Sahbi Dorai

The guided tour of this protected island was conducted by volunteers and experts from the “Notre Grand Bleu” association, whose objectives are to protect and monitor nesting and egg-laying sea turtles. The young women were even able to witness the rare event of eggs hatching and to see baby sea turtles rushing down the beach toward the water for their very first taste of the sea. 

By the end of the visit, the participants better understood the complementarity between the diverse activities taking place around the marine protected area, as well as the importance of using a participatory approach in marine spatial planning. 

The lagoon and desert  

Participants arriving at "El Biben" Lagoon. ©GFCM/Hedi Chouchen

In the El Biben Lagoon, the focus of the field trip was the ancient valliculture capture technique, which capitalizes on the seasonal migrations of certain fish species by preventing fish in lagoons from returning to the open sea. The participants joined local fishers on a boat trip to observe the structure of the traditional tidal trap used in the western Mediterranean, called “bordigue”.  

On the left, a participant holding a blue crab, on the right a fishermen's catch in "El bibene" Lagoon in Zarzis. ©GFCM/Sahbi Dorai

On their next stop along Tunisia’s southern coast, participants visited Eden Life, a spirulina farm in the Gabès governate that specializes in the production and development of microalgae, and were invited to observe the harvesting process. Desert aquaculture practices are becoming increasingly popular in North Africa, and in the desert region of Gabès, the women visited a tilapia farm that integrates geothermal water into agricultural production.  

On the left, a visit to the spirulina farm "Eden Life" in Gabès, on the right a view of the desert region in Gabès. ©GFCM/Sahbi Dorai

Training on seaweed and shellfish culture   

Moving to the north of the country, the last stages of the training took place in the Bizerte Lagoon, known for its well-established seaweed and shellfish farming activities. 

Participants gained an insight into seaweed and shellfish culture during their visit to Aqua Company and SELT Marine Group’s farms. At Aqua Company, one of the leading farms in shellfish aquaculture in Tunisia, trainees took a boat trip to the farming site, observed the produced species and production techniques and tasted fresh oysters on site. 

Participants learning about oyster aquaculture techniques. ©GFCM/Sahbi Dorai

SELT Marine Group’s farm offered the participants the opportunity to understand seaweed cultivation, the processing of different products extracted from seaweed and their use and distribution in local and international markets. They took part in laboratory activities and tastings of products based on algae extract, such as gelatin, sweets and food additives. This innovative company is even working on producing a food wrapping material to substitute plastic.  

The rich and educational training programme concluded with a final ceremony at the National Institute of Marine Science and Technology (INSTM) in Salammbô. The 21 young women celebrated the completion of their unique experience, in which they had gathered from near and far to learn and discover "the world of aquaculture", taking part in all of the technical and practical work related to this important sector. 

Closing ceremony at the National Institute of Marine Science and Technology (INSTM) in Salammbô. ©GFCM/Sahbi Dorai

“I’m grateful to be part of this experience because it gave me the opportunity to connect with other young women in the sector, share knowledge and see different aquaculture practices in Tunisia, “ said Chantelle Spiteri, a participant from Malta.