Women slowly gaining access to more jobs in tuna fisheries, but remain mostly in traditional roles

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Two lines of women, one line either side of a showing shelf containing many new cans that are yet to be filled, at a Pacific Islands tuna cannery. Photo: Francisco Blaha.
On the processing line at a Pacific Islands tuna cannery. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

Small changes are slowly resulting in opportunities for women to take up a wider range of jobs in the tuna fisheries.

However, researchers have found that most of the options for women remain limited along traditional gender lines.

The researchers assessed how the ways the value chain is governed in tuna fisheries affect the well-being of communities, which includes women’s participation in the economy. They studied two communities in Solomon Islands, Noro and Gizo, both in Western Province, and two communities in Indonesia.

In Solomon Islands, some women were doing well in jobs with greater responsibilities such as technical supervisors or managers in the SolTuna cannery at Noro, or had built up trading businesses and fleets of fishing vessels.

And, in 2019, three women started work as cadets on the National Fisheries Development fishing fleet. Until then, the agency employed only men on its fishing vessels.

Generally, however, few women work on tuna fishing vessels anywhere. In Solomon Islanders, they make up a large part of the workforce once that catch is landed, dominating work on processing lines in factories, and selling raw or processed fish in local markets. 

Female compliance officer and two longline fishing vessels Solomon Islands. Photo Francisco Blaha.
Controlling longline vessels in Solomon Islands … women are slowly becoming a presence across the tuna industry. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

The researchers described their study and findings in the most recent issue of the Women in Fisheries Bulletin, which is published by the Pacific Community.

They said some women were also found in technical, financial and managerial roles, but usually in lower-paid, less powerful positions than their male colleagues. This was the same for tuna that is exported and for tuna sold in local markets for local consumption.

The researchers said that the largest employment opportunities in the tuna fisheries, on fish-processing lines for women, and as general crew of fishing vessels for men, were poorly paid. Two-thirds of the workforce of SolTuna are women, but most of them are in the lowest-paid jobs with the least authority. 

The researchers said that the International Finance Corporation had worked with SolTuna since 2015 to improve opportunities for women, as well as their working conditions.

Women’s work in the tuna fisheries was made more difficult because they were expected to fit paid work around their obligations to care for families and homes, with strong social and cultural values shaping women’s and men’s views on where women could legitimately seek work.

Most women who sell tuna in the Gizo and Noro are involved in small, family-run businesses. (This was different to the situation in Indonesia, where the value chain is more complex and offers more opportunities for women to be involved in or run larger businesses.)

If women were going to take up paid work across the tuna industry in greater numbers, jobs needed to be flexible so women could also meet their extensive family responsibilities.

Laughing woman in orange cap and coverall clothing with paintbrush and box in factory Solomon Islands. Photo Francisco Blaha.
A Solomon Islander at work in tuna processing … women are concentrated in the low-paid jobs. Photo: Francisco Blaha.