A new study highlights that women fishers’ contributions to small scale fisheries have been undercounted leading to uninformed small-scale fisheries (SSF) policies and management. Reversing these shortcomings will be crucial to meeting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 (conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development) and Goal 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls).

Publishing their results in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management, a largely Fijian research team of authors include: Alyssa Thomas, Sangeeta Mangubhai, Waisea Naisilisili, and Margaret Fox of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS); Semisi Meo of Conservation International; Katy Miller of the Vatuvara Foundation; Joeli Veitayaki of the University of the South Pacific, Alafua Campus; Salote Waqairatu of Conservation International and the University of the Sunshine Coast.

The authors looked at the role of indigenous Fijian (iTaukei) women in small-scale fisheries. They found that women fishers provide critical contributions to their household food security via three pathways: (1) the direct nutritional value of fish; (2) increased purchasing power (and thus a source of income) from selling fish and invertebrates; and (3) an improved economic status.

However, their substantial contributions from harvesting both fish and invertebrates are not included in most official statistics, and therefore are overlooked and continue to be invisible, ignored and unrecognized in fisheries management and policy development.

According to the study’s second lead author Sangeeta Mangubhai of WCS: “Empowering women for full participation in fisheries and lifting them out of poverty requires a re-consideration of traditional gender norms in rural communities, which are already shifting and evolving. These changes can help ensure that women fishers and their contributions are visible, acknowledged and recognized.”

The authors say that sustainable management of SSF will require the collection of sex-disaggregated data, in order for women’s catches to be counted and included in all statistics. More information about the volume and sizes of fish and invertebrates harvested by the women would assist in the sustainable management of key species. Women fishers also need greater participation in management decisions and policies, especially for the habitats where they are the main users (e.g. mangroves and mudflats).

Globally, women account for an annual catch of ~2.9 million tons of seafood a year and an estimated 2.1 million women participate in SSF. However, women fishers’ contributions to national economies have routinely been overlooked due to their dominance in the informal economy, which is normally unrecorded and missing from official statistics.

The long-term sustainable management of fisheries is necessary for food security, livelihoods and poverty alleviation.