Fish Factor: Gender parity and the seafood industry

Stock photo (Unsplash.com)

Alaska appears to be an exception in terms of gender parity at all levels of its seafood industry.

 

Women comprise roughly half of the world’s seafood industry work force, yet a report released last week revealed that 61 percent of women around the globe feel they face unfair gender biases from slime lines to businesses to company boardrooms. The women’s overall responses cited biases in recruitment and hiring, in working conditions and inflexible scheduling.

The findings were based on 700 responses gathered in an online survey from September through December of last year. Thirty percent of the respondents were men; 27 percent of the total responses came from North America.

In my view, Alaska doesn’t fit the picture.

Based on “empirical evidence” spanning 30 years as a fisheries writer, I always have encountered women at all levels of seafood harvesting and processing, business, management, education and research, as agency heads and commissioners and in top directorships in industry trade groups and organizations. While women may be outnumbered by men in the state’s seafood industry overall, they are highly visible and valued throughout the workforce hierarchy.

Maybe Alaska’s small population levels the playing field and smart, talented women are not so easily overlooked. But that’s clearly not the case elsewhere.

In the survey, 33 percent of women said they have faced discrimination at work, 49 percent said there are unequal opportunities for men and women; 12 percent of women cited sexual harassment.

One striking finding of the gender equality in the seafood industry report was that women and men have very different perceptions of the problem - fewer than half of the men said that they believe women face biases throughout the industry.

“Less than one men in 10 consider women are facing discrimination. It is important to see that men and women do not share the same diagnosis. If it is not shared, things cannot change,” said Marie Catherine Montfort, report co-author and CEO of the international group Women in the Seafood Industry (WIS).

Many women said they are not given incentives to join the seafood industry, especially at school levels.

An interesting view shared by 80 percent of both genders was that the industry holds little appeal for women.

“This is probably the only shared response — that both believe the industry is not attractive to women. I think this question should be asked by seafood companies and all stakeholders in this industry,” Montfort said, adding “that likely explains the 83 percent (71 percent men) who said the seafood industry has a lack of female candidates for jobs.”

The WSI survey also revealed that the seafood industry puts more focus on racial diversity than gender equality.

Scandinavian countries got the highest marks for perceptions of gender equality at 58 percent; North America totaled 33 percent.

Recognizing and raising the awareness of biases against women is the first step towards making positive changes, Montfort said, and the report findings can “open routes to progress.”

“It can identify barriers to gender equality and identify good practices,” she said.

To help draw attention to the issue, WSI has launched a short video contest to showcase women working in all areas of the seafood industry. The winner will receive $1,165 and get wide play at fishery events around the world. Deadline is Aug. 31. Contact womeninseafood@wsi-asso.org/

Prices high/catches low

Salmon prices are starting to trickle in as more sales are firmed up by local buyers, and early signs point to good paydays across the board.

At Bristol Bay last week, Trident, Ocean Beauty and Togiak Seafoods posted a base price of $1.25 a pound for sockeyes, according to KDLG in Dillingham. Trident also was paying a 15 cent bonus for reds that are chilled and bled, and the others may follow suit.

Copper River Seafoods raised its sockeye price from $1.30 to $1.70 for fish that is chilled/bled and sorted. That company also reportedly is paying 80 cents a pound for coho salmon and 45 cents for chums and pinks.

The average base price last year for Bristol Bay sockeyes was $1.02 a pound, 65 cents for cohos, 30 cents for chums and 18 cents a pound for pinks.

Kodiak advances were reported at $1.60 for sockeyes, 55 cents for chums and 40 cents for pinks. That compares to average prices of $1.38 for sockeyes, 40 cents for chums and 31 cents for Kodiak pinks in 2017.

At Prince William Sound a sockeye base price was reported at $1.95 and chums at 95 cents.

At Norton Sound the single buyer was advancing 80 cents a pound for chums and $1.40 for cohos, same as last year, and 25 cents for pinks, an increase of 22 cents.

Salmon fishermen at Kotzebue were getting 40 cents for chums, down from 48 cents, but that price is expected to increase when a third buyer comes on line.

The weekly summary from the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game said that Southeast trollers were averaging $8.48 for Chinook salmon, an increase of $1.15 over last year. Troll caught cohos were at $1.64, a 16 cent increase and chums were paying out at 90 cents, up 13 cents from 2017.

All prices are likely to change when more sales are made in coming months.

Alaska’s total salmon catches are still down by one-third compared with the statewide harvest topping 70 million fish by July 27. Nearly 42 million of the salmon were sockeyes from Bristol Bay.

Seafood slight

As Donald Trump prepares to offer U.S. farmers $12 billion in aid to help compensate for losses caused by trade scuffles with China, Democrats in Congress have put forth a plan to help fishermen.

House Resolution 6528 was introduced last Wednesday by Massachusetts representative Seth Moulton. It aims to add language to the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Act that disaster relief funds can also be used in the case of “unilateral tariffs imposed by other countries on any United States seafood.”

Co-sponsors of the bill include representatives Chellie Pingree of Maine, Stephen Lynch and William Keating of Massachusetts, Jared Huffman of California and Raul Grijalva of Arizona.

Fishermen “don’t deserve to be victims of this self-imposed trade war,” Pingree said at a hearing last week.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also are being outspoken in their support of fishermen.

But the snub to U.S. farmers of the sea isn’t likely to change.

When U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was asked if Trump is considering providing other sectors assistance similar to the $12 billion taxpayer funded hand out to the agriculture sector, he replied, “Not at this time. No.”

There have been two major trade actions with China that affect Alaska seafood. On July 6, China implemented a retaliatory tariff of 25 percent on U.S. seafood sent to the Chinese domestic market. China purchases 54 percent of Alaska’s seafood exports, valued at $1.3 billion in 2017.

Then on July 10 Trump escalated his trade war by proposing an additional 10 percent tariff on seafood exported from China to the U.S. It includes $2.7 billion in American-caught seafood, mostly from Alaska, that is reprocessed in China into fillets and breaded portions and sent back to the U.S. for distribution. That tax is scheduled to go into effect in early September.

In the short term, the Alaska seafood industry may see greater impact from that tariff, according to Alexa Tonkovich, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

ASMI plans to comment on the proposed tariff to trade representatives before the Aug. 17 deadline.

“We encourage other industry members that will be affected by these tariffs to also comment and voice concern,” Tonkvich said in a statement.


• Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based journalist who writes a weekly column, Fish Factor, that appears in newspapers and websites around Alaska and nationally.


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