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Marine Stewardship Council

Problematic from the Perspective of Fishery-dependent women

Chandrika SHARMA

12 / 1997

Throughout the world women depend on fisheries resources for food, work, income and identity but tend to have less control than men over these resources and the associated wealth. Despite these realities, initiatives in fisheries management and conservation, such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), rarely reflect on their potential impacts on women. A full discussion of the implications of the proposed MSC for women of the North needs to look at women who depend on fishery resources for employment, culture and community. The household basis of fisheries in Atlantic Canada, Norway and many other parts of the North is well documented. Women contribute directly to these fisheries as workers, organisers and managers, in fishery households, industries and communities.

As workers, wives and mothers who are rooted in their communities, these women have a vested interest in sustainable fisheries. The depletion of resources that led to moratoriums on groundfish in Atlantic Canada, for instance, had a profoundly negative impact on women.

Besides rendering thousands unemployed, the crisis affected women doing unpaid work in their husbands’ fishing enterprises. Other women lost work in child care and the retail sector in fishery-dependent communities. Moreover, out migration and government cutbacks are reducing the number of women employed in education and social services.

>From the perspective of these and other fishery-dependent women of the North, the underlying assumptions of the MSC are extremely problematic. It is implied that the cause of these problems, particularly in the North, is too much democracy: governments have been unwilling to take the decisions necessary to prevent overfishing, due to political pressure from a fishing industry driven to use up resources and destroy itself. Women in fishery communities do not share this perception.

In the case of Atlantic Canada and Norway, for example, they feel that decisions about the fishery, past and present, have been made by people who are unfamiliar with the strengths and needs of rural communities and, more specifically, with the needs of women. They feel that without the knowledge and the support of local people, initiatives to create sustainable fisheries will not succeed.

With reference to the MSC, they feel that there is no guarantee that the proposed MSC will deal with these issues and remove politics from fisheries management. The process of defining `expertise’ has political dimensions, as does the process of defining sustainable fishing. There are, for instance, latent biases towards the offshore trawler fishery in the science of stock assessment in Newfoundland. Small-scale fishers’ knowledge poses problems for fisheries science and management.

If the expertise of male fishers is marginalised within fisheries science and management in countries of the North, that of female fishers and fishworkers is excluded.

However, when these women attempt to draw upon their knowledge and experience to influence fisheries policy, as happened in Norway during the cod moratorium, the integrative nature of that knowledge (rooted in links between ecology, household, work, markets and communities)makes it difficult for managers to grasp.

The perception that such knowledge represents particular interests, whereas scientific knowledge is objective, contributes to this marginalisation by according science a greater power.

In the MSC, fisheries-dependent women are not explicitly identified among the stakeholders that should be consulted in formulating its standards and principles for sustainable fishing.

Shifting decisions on fisheries management from elected governments to an MSC with no clear accountability to fishery communities will augment existing limits on democracy located in the political sphere and in the market, and further erode women’s power. The MSC proposal has not identified, in addition, the need to reduce inequities, including gender-related ones, within the current generation, as a requirement for sustainability.

Economic inequities are primarily responsible for overfishing in both the North and South, since the wealthy tend to benefit more than the poor from overfishing. Any initiative that proposes to create sustainable fisheries without addressing deepening economic inequities will not be effective.

Palabras claves

pescado, gestión de recursos naturales, ciencia, ONG internacional, transnacional, mujer

, Noruega, , Canadá


The MSC proposal, with its emphasis on a sustainable fishery, might appear to be beneficial for fishery-dependent women of the North. It might appear to hold out hope for a more secure livelihood and future for fishery-dependent communities. However, the fact that the MSC lays no specific emphasis on bringing, within its framework, the specific knowledge and needs of women and men of coastal communities, is disturbing. There are dangers of it being yet another initiative, steered by `experts’ far removed from the reality and knowledge base of coastal communities. It is unlikely that such initiatives will lead to a sustainable fishery, or be of benefit to coastal communities, unless the vital issues raised above are addressed.


Artículos y dossiers

NEIS, Barbara, Cut adrift in. Samudra Report, 1996/11, 16

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