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Life is the Goal, not Fishing

Chandrika SHARMA

12 / 1997

In Norway, the first regulatory law for the fishery was enforced in 1974, based on resource considerations. Licences were introduced to regulate large-scale fishing and fishing with active gears like trawls and purse-seines.

In 1989, however, the open access that prevailed in the coastal zone for small-scale fishworkers using passive gears like hook-and-line and longlines was suddenly closed, based on an assessment of a decline in the most important Norwegian fish stock, the Arctic cod.

This sudden prohibition came as a shock to the many scattered coastal communities. They felt they had been asked to foot the bill for overfishing by distant-water trawlers. Bankruptcy and forced sales of family homes and vessels swept through the coast. Those who survived the first crisis remained in fear of the future.

At the height of the crisis, fisherwomen spontaneously formed coastal women’s action groups. Women in Norwegian fishing communities had always played vital roles within the family and community. Service tasks undertaken by them had supplemented the income from fishing and wage-work. As fishing opportunities declined, such supplementary income became more important.

Norwegian women are now entering fisheries politics, demanding a just and dignified treatment of fishworkers. And amongst themselves, they are discussing increases in wife-battering, family conflicts and divorces prompted by underemployed and frustrated husbands.

The political action by fisherwomen led to some subsidies to lessen the immediate economic burden. But the questions of future access to resources and their distribution were settled by the authorities and the national fishworkers’ association, through the introduction of boat quotas.

While quotas were given to both to large-scale and small-scale vessels, those who had caught the smallest amounts of codfish in the previous three years were excluded. Newcomers cannot now enter coastal fisheries, except by buying a vessel with a quota. The closed access functions as a privatisation of what was previously a common resource. Since almost all boatowners are male, fish resources have been formalised as an all-male property.

Although fishing has been heavily male-dominated, women have been fishing when necessary, as during the seasonal herring and codfish fishery, where many hands were needed. They have taken part in subsistence fishing in the home fjord. If widowed, they have fished to provide for their children. Now, however, access is closed and the historical access of women to fish resources, based on needs, has not led to any rights.

Further, the `trawl ladder’ provision ensures that when stocks of Arctic cod recover and quotas are augmented, the relative distribution between trawlers and the coastal fishing vessels can change in favour of the trawlers. Also, the rules for redistribution of quotas prohibit any vessel under eight metres in length. In effect the abolishment of open access works to marginalize women and small-scale fishworkers.

The logic in the management system favours resource-intensive fisheries. Small-scale fishing may not be competitive when export revenue is taken as the only criterion that counts. But the profit from it is spread across many hands and the impact on fish stocks is minimal. In large-scale trawling, only a few fishworkers live off the huge quantities of resources. Yet the more sustainable way of life through small-scale fishing is not respected either by the authorities or the national association of fishworkers. °°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°

Norwegian fisherwomen have emphasised the importance of coastal fishing as a means of livelihood for many small communities and for a socially and culturally meaningful and dignified life. This perspective has also been adopted by two organisations fighting the injustices in current fisheries policies, i.e. the Norwegian Association of Coastal Fishworkers and the Open Fisheries Commons. Women’s voices are continuously needed in the debate on fisheries management to keep intact a wider perspective, including the social and cultural aspects of fishing.

Key words

fishing, woman, fishermen’s organization

, Norway


Women in Norway know that life is the goal, not fishing. The present conflict is more than a fight between interest groups. It concerns the direction of the development of the fisheries of industrialised countries. The `profit-based’ logic of fisheries development ignores the fact that fisheries is more than just a sources of income- it is a cultural, social and economic way of life for hundreds of coastal communities in both the North and South. The move towards resource-intensive and over-efficient technologies, while leading to overfishing and stock depletion, is also compromising the livelihood of coastal communities. To support a socially and ecologically sustainable ways of life, it is necessary to protect the access of coastal communities to fishery resources, and to move away from a profit- and technology-driven approach to fishery management.


Articles and files

MUNK MADSEN, Eva, Life is the goal, not fishing in. Samudra Report, 1994/12, 10 11

ICSF (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers) - 27 College Road, Chennai 600006, INDIA - Tel. (91) 44-2827 5303 - Fax (91) 44-2825 4457 - India - - icsf (@)

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