Women in Scottish fisheries: literature review

Findings from a review of research literature, case studies and examples of good practice from Scotland and beyond, alongside existing government strategies, to provide insights into challenges and opportunities presented for women in Scottish fishing.

Executive Summary

This report presents findings from a review of research literature, case studies and examples of good practice from Scotland and beyond, alongside existing government strategies, to provide insights into challenges and opportunities presented for women in Scottish fishing industry and fishing communities. It also considers what other characteristics, alongside gender, contribute to inequality in fisheries to emphasise the need for an intersectional approach.

The key findings from the report are set out below:

  • Women in Scottish fisheries make significant contributions to the wellbeing and successes of local communities and the fishing industry through their paid and unpaid labour. Women are mostly employed in onshore roles such as administration and seafood processing. They are also responsible for domestic work and childcare. Their work is often undervalued and underappreciated because it is informal and less visible, but essential nonetheless. Therefore, there is a strong need to acknowledge, appraise, and highlight their contributions.
  • Women are underrepresented in offshore and senior leadership positions in fisheries. Fisheries are culturally represented and imagined as male-dominated, which can discourage women from entry. There are also reports of sexist attitudes, behaviour and language. These issues have to be addressed by creating and promoting a culture of equality, specifically an industry safe, fair, and accessible to women and people from other underrepresented categories.
  • Across society, women have been disproportionally affected by the Covid-19 pandemic by undertaking additional caring responsibilities, putting their careers on hold, and taking on ad-hoc work in communities and family businesses. Fisheries are no different, so it is important to consider women when developing projects to support fishing communities recovering from Covid-19.
  • There is a lack of evidence and data on women in fisheries for a number of reasons, and steps are needed to improve this.
  • Women face a range of practical, socio-economic and cultural challenges ranging from access to training, appropriate equipment and clothing, and associated safety issues, lack of vessel and quota ownership, unequal pay, caring responsibilities (where the lack of available childcare in rural areas limits their ability to participate in certain fishing activities), cultural assumptions about women's roles and identities within the fishing industry, and perceptions of what a successful industry looks like.
  • Gender intersects with other factors such as nationality, race, age, class and disability which need to be accounted for in any discussion of inequality.
  • The report draws on evidence and case studies from other places and other industries to suggest possible approaches that might help to enable more equal treatment and participation by women in fishing.
  • There is a need to work with women in Scottish fisheries to establish priorities and projects which can best support them.
  • Working to create equitable, safe and sustainable fisheries through engaging with underrepresented members within the industry can improve the resilience of the industry as a whole and make it a more lucrative career choice.

Note on Key terms

Fishing communities: This report refers to fisheries, by which it means both the fishing industry explicitly (catch, processing, sales), and fishing communities more broadly. This is particularly important because women's contributions to fisheries often fall outside of the scope of formal employment in the industry (Frangoudes and Gerrard, 2018).

Defra (2021) defines and maps fishing communities as those which indicate a significant reliance on fishing based on available economic metrics and/or social characteristics. Brookfield et al. (2005) similarly define fishing dependent communities as "a population in a specific territorial location which relies upon the fishing industry for its economic, social and cultural survival". Meanwhile Ross (2015) argues that due to the mobile nature of fishing, fishing communities are bound more by common values like empathy with those involved in fishing, the value of freedom and autonomy and a closing of ranks against "external spectres of 'policy', 'science', and 'the public'" (p309), than by geography alone, indicating similarities between fisheries on a national and international scale.

Intersectionality: This report specifically addresses the situation of women in fisheries, because previous research has underlined that gender equality is an issue within the industry that needs to be prioritised (Gustavsson, 2019). It is important, however, to make an explicit connection to the broader equalities issues in fisheries. In fisheries and beyond, experiences of inequality intersect gender, race, sexual orientation, class, etc (Crenshaw, 2017). Section 6 of this reports addresses the importance of an intersectional approach to equalities amongst women and in fisheries more broadly.


Email: oana.racu@gov.scot

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