‘Women are the strongest pillar’

Date: March 9, 2020

Source: The Ecologist

Meet the female fishmongers in Liberia fighting for healthy fisheries.

On the landing beaches of Liberia fishing canoes crowd the shallows, the bright colour schemes and fluttering flags showing the pride the fishermen take in their work.

But although the men haul the nets this is an industry underpinned by women.

Fishmongers in Liberia are almost entirely women and make up more than half the fisheries workforce. After haggling with the fishermen for the best price, they process the fish, salting or smoking and selling them at the bustling marketplaces.   

Majority 

But it is not just once the fish are landed that these women are central. The fishmongers will often buy fishing equipment or even canoes for the fishermen, investing to ensure a good supply of seafood for their own businesses.

They also hold office. Theresa Bayon is the General Secretary of the Liberia Artisanal Fisheries Association, which represents the local canoe crews and fishmongers. She said: “In the industry, especially in the artisanal sector, we have approximately 33,000 fisherfolks, but we find the woman are the majority, we have 20,000 women in the sector.

“In Liberia, women are the strongest pillar, we manage the sector.”

Theresa was a fishmonger before she took on her role, using the money she earned at the fish markets to pay her university fees, and she still plies her trade.

But she’s concerned about the future: “We still have trawlers coming at night, we still receive information from our fishermen that in the night you look on top the water [and] it’s like a big city with those trawlers that come.

We don’t want trawlers in our waters at all. I mean what I am saying. I am the general secretary of the Artisanal Fisheries Association – we will not have trawlers coming and spoiling our waters and taking away our resources.”

Theresa’s sentiments are echoed by an even more powerful woman in Liberian fisheries, Emma Metieh-Glassco, Director-general of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority. The body in charge of ensuring that trawlers don’t fish illegally in the exclusion zone reserved for canoe fishers.

Emma said: “80 percent of our population depends on fish. If we do not have fish available in the local market, the population might suffer from malnutrition.

“Overfishing effects coastal livelihoods because when they go to fish, there’ll be no fish available for them to catch. So how do they support their families? How do they get daily earnings? It has huge social and economic impacts.”

Illegal fishing is not limited to the trawlers, although they have the greatest impacts, some canoe crews will also use illegal practices such as dynamite or chemical fishing – when toxic chemicals like DDT are poured over the side, and the dead fish scooped up. For the fishmongers this is a serious issue as well, not only because of the health concerns, but also because such fish are unsellable.

To safeguard Liberian fisheries from all illegal fishing, a clear path to good management for healthy seas is needed. And that means hearing all voices equally – including the fishmongers.

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