New report studies impact of women in fisheries

Report includes findings of Gulf of Alaska focus groups

A new federal study with an eye on historical data concludes that women participate in Alaska fisheries differently than men, often in essential work not captured in fisheries statistics.

Their integral, multifaceted role makes them important players in the state’s commercial fisheries, with women being key to contributing to family adaptability and in turn community resilience, says Marysia Szymkowiak, a social scientist contractor with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Juneau.

Her report on women’s engagement in 30 years of Alaska fisheries summarizes findings from a series of focus groups held throughout Gulf of Alaska communities on women’s participation in fisheries, as well as the incorporation of a gender attribute into fisheries harvest data, she said. Her findings were published in early February by NOAA Fisheries.

Beyond their direct participation in the harvesting sector of commercial fisheries, Szymkowiak found that women adapting to family situations and changes in fisheries will engage in shoreside employment, working on family boats, direct marketing and engaging in fish politics.

“Understanding when, how and where women fish, and what limits their participation is essential if we are to maintain and promote community resilience in the face of huge ecological, market and management changes in our fisheries,” she said.

Szymkowiak found that while women are key to the adaptability of Alaska fisheries through their dynamic roles that the perceived evolution for increased opportunities for women was only marginally evident over the last three decades.

Men continue to dominate the industry in terms of number of participants and their earnings.

The study found that fishing activity for women is largely constrained to nearshore fisheries favorable for navigating both fishing and childcare duties. More than half of women’s fisheries revenues in Alaska over the last three decades are concentrated in nearshore salmon fisheries mostly for red salmon. An example is the importance of women’s contribution to the Bristol Bay salmon setnet fishery, which has been documented in previous Alaska Fisheries Science Center research.

Szymkowiak said that the lack of opportunity to diversify may make women especially economically vulnerable. Key findings of her research were that with women dependent on a single species they are tremendously vulnerable to changes in prices and fish returns from year to year.

In a separate upcoming study, Szymkowiak found that Alaska’s fisheries parallel global trends. Her hope, she said, is that gender will become a key variable in fisheries data across various levels of access and ownership, so everyone can better understand how it shapes economic vulnerability and resilience.