In the romantic image of a fisherman at sea, this is always a man, but in reality women do almost half of the work in fishing.
Hundreds of millions of women worldwide make a critical contribution to every step of the process. Women repair fishing gear, organize fishing trips and often arrange safety, hygiene, regulations and fisheries management. Women harvest seaweed and seafood along the coastlines. And it is mainly women who work on preparing and processing the catch, from the moment of landing to packaging.
Women are in charge here
The Blue Swimming Crab is selected and canned in Ms Aik’s factory. Valued at over US $ 300 million annually, the Blue Swimming Crab is one of Indonesia’s most valuable exports. Thanks to high demand from the US, where the crab is a popular ingredient in crab cakes and salads, the crab industry has tripled in value since the early 2000s. The crab industry in Indonesia currently employs more than 90,000 fishermen and 185,000 women.
Although the Blue Swimming Crab is caught along all coastal waters of Indonesia, the vast majority comes from the Northern coastline of Java, the economic center of the country. At the eastern tip of Java is the island of Madura, which gives East Java a striking shape of the claw of a crab.
In the village of Padelegan on Madura, the Blue Swimming Crab is the backbone of the local economy and the largest employer. For many women, such as factory worker Siti, the crab is an economic vein. « Crabs have been an important part of my family for a long time, » she says. “The work the crab offers has brought us a lot of financial stability. Thanks to this income, we can also pay for the children’s school in addition to the household. ”
The threats to the Coral Triangle
But there may be a threat on the horizon. The seas around the Padelegan coast form part of the Coral Triangle, an area so rich in marine life that it is also referred to as the “Amazon of the Seas”.
These waters are so full of life that Indonesia is the second largest fish producer in the world after China. Across the islands, more than six million people work in the fishing industry, and fish provide more than half of their daily needs for animal protein. However, as demand for fish and seafood continues to rise, some Indonesian species are overfished and now endanger local welfare, food security and marine biodiversity.
To help the Blue Swimming Crab fishery tackle these hazards, Fish for Good is working with local authorities, fisheries and other key partners to make fishing more sustainable. Initiated by the Marine Stewardship Council and powered by the National Postcode Lottery players, this four-year program improves traceability, data collection and fisheries management to keep these fisheries thriving. The main partners of Fish for Good Indonesia are the Indonesian Blue Swimmer Crab Association (APRI), whose members jointly process 85% of all Blue Swimming Crab in Indonesia, and the MMAF, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs.
Women are the driving force on the mainland of Padelegan. As soon as the catch arrives at the Adaifah cooking station, where the crabs are steamed, it is her job to inspect and record the catch.
Good data is the basis of efficient fisheries management, which is why it collects information about who the fisherman is, how much was caught and which gear was used. In order to ensure that the catch complies with the rules, she never accepts crabs less than 10 cm long and the so-called “carrying” females, crabs that carry eggs.
« Our buyers don’t want to scratch undersized, » she says. “If fishermen accidentally catch crabs that are too small, they must immediately return to the sea. If we accept crabs that are too small, this will not be sustainable for the longer term. ”
The catch is steamed in the cooking station and spread over a handful of small processing plants on the island called “mini-plants”. Siti is part of the entire army of female workers who manually pluck the meat from the crab. It is very important to her to be part of something sustainable. « The sea and underwater life is part of all of us, » she says. « It is up to us to ensure that we create a sustainable future for our children »
Outside on the water, the fishermen also contribute. Many of them have switched to a new type of trap, the “Bubu” trap. These are folding bamboo traps. Unlike the Gillnet, Bubu does not damage the crab and ensures maximum freshness. The trap mainly selects larger crabs, minimizing bycatch of other species and smaller crabs.
A gender-equal fishery
Padelegan’s fishermen and employees are proud of what they have achieved so far and are hopeful that they will be able to apply for the blue MSC label in the long term. They also hope that the contribution that these women make to fishing will gain more recognition in the future.
Hundreds of millions of women in fisheries worldwide remain unseen and undervalued … excluded from decision-making despite their expertise. Siti in particular would like to see this changed, and believes Padelegan’s successes can be a good foundation to build on. « We hope that our work here is a source of inspiration to other women in the world, especially those who work in the fishing industry. »
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