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New study highlights women in fisheries

A new study highlights the role of women in fishing families in the U.K. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Madeleine Gustavsson, a research fellow at the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health and a visiting post-doctoral fellow at Memorial University, who is conducting the study, says the timing is crucial, with the crafting of new fishing policies to be put in place following Brexit.

Gustavsson has a PhD in human geography and has previously worked in marine sciences.

“Small-scale vessels make up 80 per cent of the fishing fleet in the U.K., yet receive only four per cent of the national fishing quota,” Gustavsson says. “By failing to prioritize this industry, many believe the U.K. government has left the communities that depend upon it vulnerable.”

The study, “Women in Fisheries,” aims to understand how small-scale fishing families — those operating boats under 10 metres in length — are adapting to changes in the environment and economic policies.

“Women in Fisheries” is a comparative study that will look at how the experience of women in small-scale fisheries has differed on either side of the Atlantic Ocean and with different policies.

In the U.K., there is a movement to try to make small-scale fisheries more visible and have greater political influence. As part of this movement, Gustavsson recognized there has been little focus on trying to recognize the roles of women or to create policies to support women in the industry.

Women take on many of what Gustavsson describes as “hidden” or “unsalaried” roles in fishing families. They frequently work in processing plants or have employment outside the fishery to economically support their family as small-scale fishing becomes less viable.

Gustavsson is focusing her study on qualitative research, which she feels is better for understanding the experiences of individuals than relying on quantitative data.

She will be in Newfoundland and Labrador, specifically the Avalon and Burin peninsulas, for several more months before returning to the U.K. to collect stories from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The collected stories will be published on a website and used for academic papers, which she hopes will help to inform policy decisions regarding fisheries following Brexit. The entire study, still in the early phases of research, will be completed in 2020.

The study is being funded with the support of a new investigator grant from the Economic and Social Research Council in the U.K., as well as the co-operation of small-scale fisheries and advocacy groups such as the European Network of Women in Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Low Impact Fishers of Europe, and the Coastal Producer Organization.

“We want to hear from as many women involved in fisheries as possible, whatever their roles might be,” says Gustavsson.

More information about the study and how to participate is available online at www.women-fisheries.com.

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