women

Glass ceiling-smashers: women and marine science at IMCC 2014

By Julia Lawson

The four female plenary speakers (L-R): Drs. Patricia Majluf, Amanda Vincent, Emily Darling, and Heather Koldewey (photo courtesy of Dr. Patricia Majluf, via Twitter @panchoveta)

The four female plenary speakers (L-R): Drs. Patricia Majluf, Amanda Vincent, Emily Darling, and Heather Koldewey (photo courtesy of Dr. Patricia Majluf, via Twitter @panchoveta)

It’s been obvious to me since my early days studying marine biology as an undergraduate at Dalhousie University that the field of marine conservation is female-dominated. However, as we reach the upper levels of academia, the number of women thins out. The lack of women reaching high-level positions is not a problem unique to marine science – the glass ceiling is a well-documented issue for women and minorities and is widespread across many different professions.

I was happy to see that this year’s International Marine Conservation Congress made a point of highlighting the role of women in conservation. The majority of the plenary speakers at IMCC were female scientists – including Dr. Patricia Majluf, director of the Centre for Environmental Sustainability at Cayetano Heredia University in Peru; marine ecologist Dr. Emily Darling; and Project Seahorse co-founders Dr. Amanda Vincent and Dr. Heather Koldewey.

The group was a mix of well-established scientists who have managed to shatter the glass ceiling, and up-and-comers like Dr. Darling, who was selected to represent ‘the future of marine conservation.’ She shared her fascinating research, which characterized four life history patterns in scleractinian corals, and how these life history patterns can be used to predict coral reef assemblages under global climate change scenarios. Her poignant and enthusiastic plenary talk invigorated the IMCC audience and indeed provided hope for the future of marine conservation.

However, in order to fully understand the future of marine conservation it is necessary to reflect on where we’ve come from. The Dr. Ransom Myers memorial closing plenary was given by Dr. Elliott Norse, who walked the audience through the history of marine conservation and marine science. He acknowledged essential contributions from female scientists like Dr. Julia Baum, a former doctoral student with Project Seahorse, who is now a professor at the University of Victoria; Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee, who has her roots at the UBC Fisheries Centre, and is now a professor at Memorial University; and Dr. Jane Lubchenco, who served under Barack Obama as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator.

Dr. Baum worked closely with Dr. Myers to document to the staggering declines of pelagic sharks in the northwest Atlantic. This research was among the first to draw attention to the plight of sharks, and initiated massive conservation efforts.

Dr. Chuenpagdee drew attention to the impacts of bottom trawls on non-target species and critical bottom habitat. Her research incorporated the views of fishers, managers and scientists to rank the impacts of different fishing gears on habitats and non-target species.

Dr. Lubchenco may be best known as one of the first scientists to recognize the importance of communicating science to the general public. No doubt Dr. Lubchenco’s work caught the eye of President Obama, who appointed her the first female NOAA Administrator in 2009.

This group made it clear that the future of marine conservation looks very different from the past. In the words of Dr. Norse, itès getting "more and more female - and that's a good thing." I applaud IMCC for taking steps to acknowledge the contributions of women in marine conservation, and for bringing together the past and future of marine conservation by carefully selecting an inspiring panel of speakers.

 

My map

By Danika Kleiber

Project Seahorse PhD student Danika Kleiber is studying the intersection of gender, fisheries, and food security. For an introduction to her work, read her first post from the field. You can also visit an archive of her posts.

Behold, my map. Each of those red dots represents data on women participating in fishing. It’s a work in progress, but I think it’s already pretty darn fascinating. The data comes from a variety of sources, and for the purposes of this map at least I’m not that picky.  Government statistics, ethnographies, personal communications, grey lit, peer-reviewed lit, books — everything! I’ve found papers on everything from inland river fishers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to shell-gatherers in Papua New Guinea, to salmon fishers in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Some references are rather dated (a 1930 ethnographic study of Samoa is the current reigning champion), and some represent places where women used to fish, but no longer do so (such as the Greenland communities Dahl researched in the late 90’s).

I don’t pick favorites, but I have to say, I love government statistics. Finding a 1998 report from Mexico that broke down fishing participation by gender made my day (with special thanks to my friend Lindsay for translating the table for me). European Commission reports (2002), you also have my respect. Even if you did leave out the shell-gathers, you had the grace to admit it. 

However, mostly what I find is purely descriptive data. From short one-line descriptions such as “women are known to glean in the shallows,” to rich ethnographies detailing the diversity of fishing methods used, I enjoy these even as I find them somewhat frustrating.  Yes, I want meaningful cultural context, but I also want numbers! That’s the thing about policymakers, it’s not enough to know that women fish.  They want details like, How many women fish? How much do they catch, what type of species do they catch and are they catching too much?  For that perfect mix of quantitative and qualitative data I’ve had the best luck with human ecology, nutrition, and other interdisciplinary studies.

My global review has also inspired me to make a list of all the words for “gleaning.” Gleaning is the type of fishing I’m most interested in, because it’s the least studied, and the one most often practiced by women. It is the practice of gathering shells, sea cucumber, octopus, and sometimes even fish from coastal shallows. Here are some of the other words for it: groping, gathering, collecting, plucking, harvesting or hunting. Or if you prefer a more international flair, try panginhas (Cebuano), or fangota or alaala (Tongan). I was particularly struck by this sentence by Carrier in 1982 used to describe gleaning in Papua New Guinea: “It has no name, but if you ask a Ponam he will say mat which means ‘reef’ and covers all sorts of gathering, plucking and harvesting of sea creatures, usually by women and always during the day” [emphasis mine].  Poor no-name gleaning. 

The thing I like best about this map is the fact that it tends to promote its own growth. Over the last six months I’ve given lots of talks, and this map always features in the introduction. It’s a quick and dirty way to demonstrate that women’s fishing is not a geographically isolated event, it’s a global phenomenon. The interesting thing is that this map is the thing people tend to remember and want to talk to me about. And mostly the conversation is about how I’m missing some data points. A woman from Bolivia told me the women fish while the men farm, and a teacher from Columbia told me she’s seen women gleaning along the seashore.  I love getting this information. In fact, if anyone out there knows of any more red dots I should add to my map, drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.

What does and doesn't constitute fishing

By Danika Kleiber

I’m really excited about this:

I know what you’re thinking. It’s just a freaking pie chart, what’s the big deal?  Well, my friends, this pie chart represents 600 interviews of people in 12 communities in Danajon Bank, Philippines. 

But of course in the end it’s not the amount of effort I’ve put into the data gathering that matters, it’s what this pie chart means that really counts. And to get to that I need to first explain where the numbers come from.

Methods:

My intrepid research assistants interviewed 300 women and 300 men about their fishing habits.  We asked them to tell us things like their typical catch volume, how often they went out per week, and how much time they spent fishing during each trip.  From this I can calculate a number of things, but in this case I calculated weekly catch volume.  I then add up everything women catch, and then everything men catch, pop it into a pie chart and VOILA! I should mention for the die hard methods people out there that the respondents were randomly selected, and we found the proportion of women and men participating in fishing activities were very similar (83% of women and 85% of men) so using equal number of interviews was appropriate. 

This pie shows that women, who according to most people in the Philippines, don’t fish, still magically manage to be responsible for 1 out of every 3 kilograms of marine life that gets extracted from the ocean. Now, I realize that I’m biased, and that my judgement is only further blinkered by several weeks worth of data entry (I’ve been dreaming in numbers), but please believe me when I tell you that this is kind of a big deal.  Women fish.  And it makes up one third of the catch volume.  Booya!

The next thing you should do is doubt my data.  How could women possibly be catching all that if they don’t fish?  The answer has to do with semantics. (Aside: about a decade ago I had a long conversation with my college math professor about why feminist researchers make such a big deal about semantics. So, Christopher, 10 years later, here is my example:)

It has to do with how we define the words “fishing” and “fisher.”  Most of the time when people quantify community fishing activities they only talk to people who self-identify as fishers. In many ways this seems to make sense, but in reality can wreak havoc with the data because there is a big difference between the number of people who call themselves fishers (and define their activities as fishing), and the number of people who extract animals from the ocean.  And the difference is largely made up of women.

(Note: this argument is based on the scale of data collection.  If you are focused on only one fisheries then it makes sense to focus on only those that participate. I’m talking about research that scales up to the community, region, or international level.)

Women, for a variety of cultural and social reasons, rarely describe themselves as fishers.  And furthermore the extractive activity that women predominately participate in — gleaning — is rarely considered a form of fishing.  So a woman in a boat lifting a net?  She’s not really fishing, she’s just helping her husband. A woman walking around the intertidal area with a huge bucket and a machete? She’s just gleaning.  

You can see why I wouldn’t take this assessment at face value.  So for the purposes of my research I defined fishing as what people did, rather than how they defined that activity. Gleaning extracts animals from the ocean and is therefore fishing.  “I’m just helping my husband” shares all the characteristics of fishing, so it too is counted as fishing.  

And what do you get?  A delicious data pie.

Fishing the jackpot

By Danika Kleiber

Project Seahorse PhD student Danika Kleiber is studying the intersection of gender, fisheries, and food security in Bohol Province, Philippines. For an introduction to her work, read her first post from the field. You can also visit an archive of her posts.

“Can you lift it any higher, Jay?”

Jay was struggling to lift a very large ray out of the water so that I could take a picture.  It was very beautiful, very heavy, and very dead. A wife and husband spearfishing team had come back with the GPS they had obligingly taken out with them, and my research assistants Jay and Aileen were there to measure the catch. As part of my research, I’ve been weighing and cataloguing the catches of local small-scale fishers to determine what they catch, who catches what, and what they eat versus what they sell. It’s part of a larger project that looks at gender roles in small-scale fisheries and their impact on food security and conservation.

One look at the ray and we all knew the 4000g electronic weighing scale, which usually does a fantastic job on small shells of all descriptions, would be woefully insufficient for this behemoth catch. Jay had first estimated the ray at 50 kg. When we finally did manage to weigh the fish, it was 37 kg and change. At 65 pesos a kilo this catch was still worth just under 2500 pesos — about US $55-60.   

The fishers’ excitement about their catch was understated yet discernable. There was a brouhaha trying to find a big enough scale, and people were gathering around to take a look. One small boy even climbed on the ray’s back. I sat in the corner while the fisher woman recounted the story of pulling the ray into the boat. 

The animal was what is known around here as a jackpot catch. Although 2500 may not seem like much, the other catches we measured in this community ranged in worth from 16-350 pesos ($0.40–$8). 

I find the concept of ‘jackpot’ to be an interesting one, especially when it comes to fishing practices. I talked to my colleague Bernie about this after the ray had been measured and sold, and confirmed something that had been floating around in my brain: there is no jackpot in gleaning, only in offshore fishing.

Most studies detailing how people decide what fishing methods to use outline the risks and rewards, and like many things in life there is a tendency for those two things to be positively correlated, and (surprise, surprise) it also often plays into the gendering of particular fishing methods. 

Dr. Rebecca Bleige Bird’s new research from fishing communities in Torres Strait, between Papua New Guinea and Australia, highlights this point.  She discovered that offshore fishing was riskier, both in terms of the possibility of drowning and the chances of catching nothing, but people, mostly men, were drawn to it because there was always the chance of a big catch.  And with a big catch comes big prestige. 

On the other hand, Bleige Bird found that gleaning — which is done primarily by women and children and involves collecting shells, sea cucumber, octopus, and sometimes fish as they walk the shoreline — is the choice of people who need first and foremost to get food on the table. When food is scarce, you can’t take the risks associated with chasing the big catch. 

Blige Bird detailed how, in Torres Strait, women are expected to put food on the table every day, and that leads them to choose gleaning. In my own research, we ask women why they don’t fish off shore in boat, and the answers we get usually mention the physical risks —drowning, exposure to the elements, seasickness, and so on. 

As with most gendered activities (that is, activities that are associated with men or women but not both) there is a tension between expectations (men fish, women glean) and reality (men also glean, women also fish).  It is this tension between the gender ideal and actual practice that I think presents the possibility of understanding how social change might occur.  

So to recap I’ve somehow managed to connect a 37 kg spotted ray with social change and gender equality. I wonder what I’d do if someone caught one of these.

The shell game

By Danika Kleiber

Ate Elac, the caretaker of Project Seahorse's fieldhouse in Suba (an island off the coast of Bohol Province, Philippines, where I'm doing my research) had agreed to teach me how to glean. Unfortunately the tide wasn’t low enough, so we combed the beach for discarded shells.  We came across a conical bivalve shell, and Ate Elac picked it up and said, in careful and clear tones, “In Visayan [the local dialect] we call this shell bangunon." Next was a spiky bivalve: “We call this shell tikod tikod.” We went on to examine 16 different shells each named by Ate Elac in the Visayan dialect. My favorite was the kasing kasing, or "heart shell": a white bivalve shell that resembles the shape of a human heart.

In Visayan you will often hear words doubled, and the naming of shells is no exception. The repetition often conveys that the object is a smaller version of the singular version. For example, on the island of Calituban, which is known for its gleaning areas, you would find large litob shells, but in Suba where Ate Elac lives you find the smaller litob litob.  As Ate Elac named off more shells my mind played with this linguistic rule.  If “fishing” was what people used to do here, did the depleted marine resources and meager catch now make a more accurate name for this activity “fishing fishing”?

Most of the shells we found on the beach had come from other islands.  “This is not a good area for gleaning, not now,” Ate Elac explained. I asked her why there were fewer shells to be found today.  “More gleaners,” was her reply. I had heard this explanation before. There are simply more people in these communities every year. When I visit communities and examine the census sheets found in every health centre, the number always increase from year to year. 

Before I could ask about the population increase in Suba, Ate Elac went on to explain that the increase in gleaners was due to the collapse of the fisheries in 2000. Fishing was no longer sufficient to feed families, so men were increasingly gleaning to fill the gap.  And then something clicked in my mind. In almost every community we had visited, officials explained that for the most part women gleaned, while men fished and gleaned.  Not only have we overlooked women’s participation in marine resource extraction, we may have also missed a key method men have used and maybe increasingly using.

This is the great thing about gender research. It takes the radical step of including women, but it also often tells us a lot more about what men are doing too.

How the other half fishes

By Danika Kleiber

danika_intro-blog_gleaning.jpg

It was the last week of interviews. My research assistant Kristina and I had spent the last month asking residents of a small coastal community in the central Philippines about how, what, where and why they fish.  People had obligingly answered and I had a binder full of data sheets to show for our efforts.  I was feeling rather smug.  From the interviews I now knew what I had previously only been allowed to suspect: women fished.  I just hadn’t seen it yet.

Before I left for the Philippines, I had received plenty of looks of polite bafflement when I explained that I was going to research gender and small-scale fishing practices. The idea of women fishing had not occurred to most people. This sentiment was also echoed in the Philippines.  “Women don’t fish,” a local official told me.  But every woman I spoke with admitted to taking wild animals from the ocean.  If that isn’t fishing, then what is it? 

After a long day of interviews Kristina and I decided to walk home along the seashore.  As we rounded a corner I saw a woman wading up to her shins in the tidal flats.  In one hand she carried a knife, and in the other she had half a plastic coke bottle.  She walked in gentle zig-zags with her focus on the water below.  She would periodically stoop down, and reach for something with her hands.  There was no boat, no net, no hook and line, and yet this woman was fishing. This is what I’d been waiting to see.

The fishing this woman was doing is called gleaning. From the readings I had done to prepare for my research I knew gleaning is a method of marine resource extraction used throughout the world.  It is a form of fishing that requires little equipment and women, men and children all participate in it.  As people walk in the shallows they collect shells, sea cucumber, octopus, and sometimes even fish.  And yet gleaners are rarely considered ‘fishers’, even by themselves.  They are not counted in official statistics on fishing, and biologists seldom research the population dynamics of the animals they collect.   

I didn’t ask this woman any questions, but from the data I had collected in my interviews I could make a few good guesses about her.  She was probably gathering shells and small crabs to feed her family that night.  It was also likely that over her lifetime she has witnessed the same decline in catch abundance that has been mentioned by male fishers in this area who dive and fish offshore in boats.  She probably has to walk farther and search longer for the dwindling resources that she and her family rely upon for food. 

If we don’t consider the impact that gleaning can have on the marine ecosystem, and we don’t understand the importance of women’s fishing to family food security, we are missing half of the information we need to manage marine resources and biodiversity.  As we work with these communities to protect marine biodiversity and ensure food security for future generations, we need to understand the full demand that humans are making on their marine ecosystem.   We need to count this woman because without her successful marine conservation won’t be possible.