Looking for a way to mark International Women’s Day this week (Monday 8 March), I came across videos submitted for the fourth Women in Seafood annual competition, run by the International Organisation for Women in the Seafood Industry (WSI).
WSI asked women to share a short film of their observations and experiences in the industry. The films submitted for judging by an international jury in 2020, are both inspirational and humbling.
“We reached out to women right across the seafood sector, in fishing, aquaculture, processing, local fish selling and international trading, quality management, certification, teaching, learning, and the wide range of services related to the industry. A new category was included this year for ‘life under Covid’, because our research shows that the virus has severely hit women seafood workers,” WSI founder and executive director Marie Christine Monfort told Fish Farmer.
“We received 23 entries from 15 countries, all of which gave an excellent insight into the challenges being faced by women in the seafood industry, and the way they overcome them. Our panel of judges had a hard time deciding on the winners!”
Top prizes were awarded to short films from Indonesia, the UK, Japan, Tanzania and India, but all the films deserve wider recognition.
The competition has become an important event in the calendar of WSI, which was formed to highlight the important contribution of women to the seafood industry, to raise awareness of gender issues, and to promote professional equality between men and women. It has a particular interest in promoting young female professionals, who will be the leaders of tomorrow.
“One seafood worker in two is a woman; they are essential contributors to the industry, but many remain invisible, and the video competition helps to give them a voice and inspire others,” Monfort said.
She was delighted when the French Development Agency (Agence Française de Développement – AFD) agreed to support the competition.
“The French Development Agency is proud to support the WSI competition. By making women’s experiences public and visible, these videos, which we must all share widely, should encourage decision-makers to take them into account in development policies and projects,” said Helene Gobert, of the AFD fisheries experts’ team.
First prize went to a film from Indonesia, which portrays the story of Arma Anti, a young woman from a remote fishing village in Sulawesi. She went to college to learn about fisheries management and became involved with a start-up company, Baur, that was developing a remote learning app for people growing fish and shrimp, and farming seaweed. The practical courses are now available online for students and fishermen/fish farmers and have already been used to help many communities understand how to improve their seafood crops.
Arma Anti has become a coach in the region, with a stable salary, and is proud to be making a real difference in the field. Her work is inspiring other women to follow her example.
The second prize in the short film category went to the UK’s Women in Fisheries – Our Stories, which was produced in Exeter. The team behind the video said: “We hope that achieving this international and prestigious recognition from WSI will help us to push for better national recognition of the work women do in UK fisheries.”
A film from Japan, entitled Changing tradition: Nadeshico Sushi, explains how ingrained prejudices impact the way in which women are treated in the Japanese seafood industry. Various beliefs about women, such as their core body temperature or their cosmetics affecting their sense of smell, have been used as excuses for not accepting them as legitimate sushi chefs. However, Nadeshico Sushi in central Tokyo is pushing back against this exclusionary tradition, with an all-female team.
The presenter explains how she delights in the art form of her work, turning tuna, salmon and rice into different, beautiful creations for each customer, and how she enjoys challenging her society’s norms for women.
From India came the story of Ramani Mani, a fish seller for more than 25 years. Until 10 years ago, she bought fish from the market and carried it from house to house in a basket on her head, but when she was no longer able to lift the basket, she learned to ride a scooter, obtained her driving licence, and took out a loan to buy her own bike. Her action is a rarity even today, for a woman fish seller in India.
The story doesn’t end there, however,and its real purpose was to show how hard life has been since the start of the Covid pandemic, with fish selling coming to a standstill for months during lockdowns, and many people – Ramani Mani included – surviving on food handouts from the government.
She spoke of the hardship she continues to experience, of sourcing adequate fish, and of people’s fear of catching Covid from her, as she goes from house to house. Since lockdown ended, she has found more people turning to fish selling, setting up business in vans and targeting her customers.
“By the time I have finished my household chores and can visit my customers, many of them have already bought from these people, and cooked the fish. Few wait for me these days, and when I try to sell in new areas, people eye me with suspicion as I am a stranger to them,” she said.
Winning first prize in the Covid category is more than vanity to Ramani Mani; it is a lifesaver.
Tilapia farming was the focus of a film from China, submitted by the China Blue Sustainability Institute, which showed the varied jobs undertaken by women working in Hainan, a tropical island in the South China Sea. The women work in hatcheries, tending ongrowing ponds, as fish scientists and technicians, and in the processing factories. Dedicated to their jobs, many of the women moved to the area to earn money to support their families, leaving children behind to be looked after by other family members.
China is the world’s leading producer, consumer and exporter of tilapia, and produced more than 1.8 million tonnes in 2018.
Since 2010, Han Han, China Blue’s Founder and Executive Director, a former China Program Director with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), has worked with the Chinese tilapia industry to cultivate an industry-led Aquaculture Improvement Project (AIP). It is this work that has helped Hainan to become an important production area that accounts for almost 50% of Chinese tilapia exports to the EU, and reverse the slump in demand. The local industry is now a safe, green and efficient model of tilapia farming, and Hainan tilapia is recognised globally as a regional brand.
“The strong stories from all over the world describe struggles, discrimination and opportunities that women face in the seafood industry. All of these films show that women play a paramount role in the seafood supply chain, so we are happy to announce that the 2021 video competition is now open for entries. Please spread the word,” Monfort said.
The films can be viewed at: