Katia Frangoudes in collaboration with Mary Carrol, Nicki Holmyard, Boguslaw Marcianiak, Cristina Moço, José Pascual-Fernandez, Begoña Marugán Pintos, Carina Rönn and Cornelie Quist, 2008.

The role of women in the sustainable development of European fisheries

European Parliament, Directorate-General for Internal Policies - Fisheries, 62 p. - IP/B/TRAN/IC/2007_033, PE 389.586

Published by the Policy Department B: Structural and Cohesion Policies of the DG for Internal Policies of the Union of the European Parliament, this report provides evidence about the important role women play in fisheries, including fishing, aquaculture and processing of aquatic products. The report examines how women self-organise and network and how they can play a role in creating new opportunities in fisheries areas by means of diversification. Best practices are analysed based on evidence from 14 EU countries (Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Romania, Poland, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom (UK). The main source for statistical information on employment is Eurostat, but gender-based statistics are missing for EU countries. Therefore the most recent EU evaluation study is used, which provides sub-sector and gender based data for 13 out of the 14 countries studied for the year 2003.

About 97,000 women are active in the fisheries sector, representing 25% of the total 'visible' employment (390,000) in the sector in 2003. They represented 26% of fisheries employment in EU25. Women are more numerous than men in processing (57%), the most industrialised component of fisheries related activities. They share is significant in aquaculture, where they represent 32% of the total, while they account for only 5% of the total in fishing.

In fishing and aquaculture, statistics ignore women who work part or full time for the family enterprise without legal recognition or associated social benefits. Although such legal recognition was initiated by the EU, most EU countries have not yet designed specific legislation to grant such recognition and this 'invisible' employmnet is not reflected in the statistics.

Women have self-organised primarily in response to crises (e.g. France 1993-1994; Netherlands 2000-2003 in relation to cod and shrimp; UK 2003). They have, among others, conducted campaigns, initiated studies, formulated recommendations, lobbied or renegotiated labour agreements with ship owners. As a result, safety at sea for their men and rescue services have been improved.

In the process of mobilisation  for issues that concerned the survival of their communities, working conditions of their husbands and equal access to fishing rights, wives of fishermen have become aware of the need to seek formal recognition of their contribution to the family fishing enterprise. Years after its achievement in the agriculture sector, wives of fishermen in France succeeded in getting access to the Collaborative Spouse Status in 1997. With the legal recognition of their work, they get access to social benefits from which they used to be excluded. This major fight led to the creation of a national federation in 2003. Many associations continue to campaign to gain a similar status in their respective countries (e.g. Netherlands, Italy, Greece).

Women directly involved in production (fishing, aquaculture) or ancillary activities (service supply, net mending etc.) do not always benefit from a professional status. Their work, like that of the wives of fisherment, is considered as marginal or simply an extension of their domestic tasks. Shellfish gathering by women typically falls under this category. It is only in Spain that the Mariscadoras have had their associations recognised as autonomous professional organisations after they successfully implemented permits and quota based management schemes to restore the resource. With training and scientific support they now run stock management plans and regulate supply to the market. Women involved in net mending in Galicia, the Rederas, were encouraged to form their own organisation with the aim of gaining professional recognition.

Following a three-year collaborative programme financed under the 5th Research Framework Programme (thematic network 'FEMMES') run by women's organisations and social scientists, policy agendas were produced and a European Network of Women's Organisations in Fisheries and Aquaculture (AKTEA) formed. As an outcome of this dynamic, women's organisations were formed in Portugal, Italy and Greece. UK and Irish wives also established a trans-national network.

Diversification in fisheries is concerned with extending the income earning potential of fisheries beyond and aside from capture or farming. When a fishing family's income is under threat, it's mostly the women who instigate diversification of activities to secure sufficient family earnings. Typical areas for diversification are direct sales, cutting out the middlemen; intelligent fish processing for higher value added, tourism, particularly with focus on restaurants, visits of shellfish farms, bed and breakfast, new forms of eco-tourism, etc.

The European Fisheries Fund (EFF) for the period 2007-2013 is the main financial instrument for Union aid to the fisheries sector. It reaffirms the principle of the promotion of equal opportunities between men and women in teh fisheries sector and fisheries areas (Art. 4, g).

The report provides policy recommendations that range from provide attention and support from all authorities to grant legal status to women's organisations to guaranteeing a minimum level of women's participation in Local Action Groups in Fisheries Areas (LAGFAs) and gender mainstreaming in local, regional, national and European administrations and in representative bodies related to fisheries (trade unions, professional organisations, assemblies, etc).

The report brings to the fore the striking similarities of patterns of 'invisible' work of women documented in an earlier international report, but also the encouraging signs to changing this deleterious state for both the communities and the resource through legal recognition and changing practices of practical resource restoration and other achievements brought about by women's organisations in different EU countries and their networking at EU level.