Fishing has long been seen as a male-dominated industry, with men literally and figuratively steering the ship. This March, during National Women’s Month, it is important we recognize the critical, though sometimes hidden, contributions of women to fisheries. From net-mending and post-harvest processing, to consolidating catch and forwarding to bigger buyers, to selling in wet markets and newer online sales platforms, to walking great lengths to sell the freshest catch of the day house-to-house, to championing marine conservation in government agencies and NGOs, women are present at every step of the fisheries supply chain and play an important role in one of the world’s biggest sectors.

As a woman working in fisheries, I found it inspirational to attend a recent event featuring all women speakers involved in responsible seafood sourcing (RSS). Organized by a team of three women who provide consultancy services to Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) in the Philippines, the event showcased important women in fisheries production and management. The Responsible Seafood Sourcing Plenary, held online on March 4, 2021 – just a few days before International Women’s Day – presented results from previous workshops about responsible sourcing in the Philippines and unveiled a Seafood Sustainability Roadmap designed by SFP under the USAID Fish Right program.

The event, which was viewed on streaming platforms by more than 1,000 people, included more than 60 national stakeholders from the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), USAID, the University of Rhode Island, civil society organizations, and major fishing industry actors in the Philippines. Participants included USAID Philippines Environment Office Chief John Edgar and BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona.

The plenary was dominated by women working in different fisheries sectors. The presenters included Andrea Diaz of SmartFish Mexico and Josette Emlen Genio, lead consultant for SFP’s Philippines Buyer Engagement team. The two women talked about lessons learned from implementing RSS in Mexico and the corresponding realities of the RSS movement in the Philippines, for both industry and NGOs.

Next, a panel of three women from different sectors offered reflections on the presentations: Amor Diaz, chief of the Philippines Fisheries Industry Development Support Services Division of BFAR, represented government; Renu Mittal, program officer for the Walton Family Foundation’s Environment Program, represented the international sustainable seafood movement; and Lourdes “Chingling” Tanco, managing director of Mida Trade Ventures International and Mida Foods Distributors Inc., represented the Philippines seafood industry. After a short Q&A forum, Rebeca Fontanilla Andong, a senior consultant for SFP’s Philippines program, wrapped up the event by summarizing the next steps for RSS in the Philippines and led a virtual “Commitment Wall” ceremony, where participants pledged their commitment to the Seafood Sustainability Roadmap.

“This momentous event was a wonderful opportunity to highlight some of the exceptional women who are part of the Philippines fisheries sector,” said Josette Emlen Genio. “These women, and others like them, bring an important voice to the sector and are playing a critical role in promoting responsible seafood sourcing in the Philippines.”

As the momentum for RSS grows in emerging markets, we hope that this meaningful March event celebrating women champions in fisheries also puts the spotlight on other marginalized and unseen players in the sector. Women, indigenous people, and artisanal fishers can together push for more inclusivity and equity in fisheries. Combined with industry players and government officials brought together by civil society organizations like SFP, the pursuit of RSS in the Philippines brings the goals of sustainable fisheries within reach.

From one woman to the others out there who continue doing unseen, unrecognized work in pursuit of more sustainable fisheries … We see you!

Happy National Women’s Month!

Danica Dans Williams is a Buyer Engagement Program consultant to SFP in the Philippines