Food and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsFood and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Meet four women in fisheries at the forefront of change in science

Advancing gender equality in the Mediterranean and Black Sea

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Women make up half of the Secretariat of FAO’s General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, a regional fisheries management body working for sustainable conservation and development in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Bulgarian national Yoana Georgieva (above) works for its BlackSea4Fish project. © Yoana Georgieva


Women are transforming the field of science at FAO’s General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM). 

The GFCM, the regional fisheries management body established through FAO, is working for the sustainable use and conservation of marine resources and sustainable development of aquaculture in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. 

The body draws on the expertise of scientists for fisheries management. Since the body’s inception in 1952, a growing number of women have come on board. Today women play an important role in its expert groups, advisory committees and decision-making bodies and comprise 50 percent of the GFCM Secretariat staff.  

This unfortunately is not the global norm. Fewer than 30 percent of the world’s scientific researchers are women. Despite recent advances, there is still a significant gender gap at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines globally.

Achieving gender equality for women means promoting their vital role in science and all of these disciplines.

On International Day of Women and Girls in science, let’s meet just four of GFCM’s women leading the way:

Elisabetta Betulla Morello has a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in marine biology and works as a fishery resources officer at the GFCM. An Italian and Australian national, she spent nearly two decades as a research scientist at Italy’s National Research Council and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

“I joined the GFCM after 20 years as a research scientist studying fisheries and the impacts of human activities on marine ecosystems,’’ she says. “I have had an incredible time doing research on important themes related to the interaction between humans and the marine environment and how to ensure its sustainability.”

Betulla’s advice to young women seeking a career in science is simple. 

“Read, read, read and be rigorous, meticulous and honest,” she says. “Think before you ask questions and always believe in yourself. Finally, play as hard as you work.”

Globally, fewer than 30 percent of the world’s scientific researchers are women. Elisabetta Betulla Morello (Left/Top) and Olfa Ben Abdallah (Right/Bottom) bring their expertise to the GFCM, from analysing marine ecosystems to assessing local fish stocks.

Yoana Georgieva comes from the Bulgarian city of Burgas on the west coast of the Black Sea. She has always had a passion for the water.   

“My father was a professional diver, and I literally grew up by the sea,” she says. “He used to take my sister and me on expeditions, so the sea is in my veins, and I chose to make it my profession.” 

Yoana did her PhD on ecosystem modeling and fish stock assessment – the first ever to be completed on the topic in her native language of Bulgarian.

She has been a scientist for more than 12 years and is a researcher at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. 

Yoana also works as a consultant for GFCM’s BlackSea4Fish project, undertaking data collection, processing and analysis of fish stocks.

She examines the state of exploited species, including the anchovy, red mullet and turbot, and provides recommendations to support the recovery of the Black Sea ecosystem and the livelihoods of local fishers. 

“For the past seven years, I have been involved in Black Sea fish stock assessment activities…. I am contributing to efforts for the sustainable management of the Black Sea’s exploited fish stocks. It is not just a profession but also a lifestyle for me. ‘’

Yoana offers, “My advice to the future girls in science is to work hard, be curious and aim higher and higher. And to never give up.” 

Women need science. Science needs women.

Olfa Ben Abdallah was born in eastern Tunisia and has a PhD in Fisheries. Olfa was the first in her family to pursue a career in science and has been working in this field for 15 years.

She is a researcher at Tunisia’s National Institute of Marine Sciences and Technologies and participates in the GFCM’s technical groups as a national expert in demersal fish stocks and coastal crustaceans.

Her research uses available data to create sustainable models for fish stocks. She says her GFCM involvement enables her to make a greater contribution at an international level.

“Fishing is not only an activity between a commercial species and a fisher,” Olfa says. “I am conducting temporal and spatial studies on levels where ecosystem components are affected.”

Olfa believes that “female scientists can leverage their skills, gain confidence, reduce the skills gap and expand the pool of talent.”

Her message is to “be persistent and innovative because women need science and science needs women”.

Achieving gender equality for women means promoting their vital role in science. Marianna GiannoulakI (above) has been working with the GFCM for more than 10 years, contributing to the management and conservation of marine resources. © Marianna GiannoulakI

A Greek national, Marianna GiannoulakI has a PhD on population dynamics and habitat modeling of small pelagics. She has been involved in GFCM working groups for more than 10 years. Marianna is a research director at the Hellenic Centre of Marine Research and Institute of Marine Biological Resources and Inland Waters.

Working with the GFCM, Marianna enjoys contributing to the management and conservation of marine resources beyond her shores. She says the work has broadened her perspective. 

“The GFCM provides a unique opportunity to unite the Mediterranean, to bring people together from different cultures and backgrounds towards a common goal: to understand and protect this unique ecosystem,” she says.  

She has an encouraging message for young women interested in science. “Do not give up, obstacles are there to be overcome. It is only with heart that great achievements are made.” 

We need gender equality to tap into the full potential of humankind. Let’s start by ensuring that women’s contributions are recognised at all levels and in all areas of society.

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