Opening career pathways and providing equal opportunities for women is the focus of a world-first initiative that has seen an all-female deck crew set off on their first fishing trip on a tuna longline vessel.
This is the result of a collaboration between fishing company SeaQuest Fiji and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, which seeks to begin addressing some of the issues creating the sizeable gender imbalance in the Pacific tuna industry.
Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said the women on this crew are pioneers, charting a new direction for the Pacific and the world by challenging the status quo.
‘The research tells us that most women’s jobs in Pacific fisheries are in processing (small scale and commercial) and marketing for the domestic market. Women working on fishing vessels are exceedingly rare,’ said Dr Tupou-Roosen.
‘There are a multitude of reasons why we don’t see women on fishing vessels from socio-cultural beliefs, family obligations, lack of skills and experience to attitudes to what roles women can play. The uphill battle these women have faced to be on this vessel today is a testament to their strength, determination and commitment to their training. They are an inspiration for us and for generations to come.’
Longliner Seaka II’s chief officer Joana Kotoicikobia Vakaucautadra said she had dreamed of being the skipper of a fishing boat since she was seven years old.
‘This journey with this wonderful group of fellow women is a culmination of my efforts to achieve a position on board a fishing vessel. I worked hard and never gave up. I hope that this success shines a light on a new pathway for younger women who may now see this career as an option,’ she said.
Seaka II is sailing with two experienced, male, deck crew trainers present to provide direction on safe procedures and handling of fish, and help run safety drills. The women will be out to sea for a two-week fishing trip.
SeaQuest CEO Brett Haywood said he was proud of his crew and how far they had come, especially as a 100% Fijian owned and staffed company.
‘What started out as an ambitious hope to train and put forward an all-female deck crew for this very first voyage, has morphed into also having two senior officers, a first officer and an engineer on board – which is an amazing achievement,’ he said.
‘We are at this point in our journey thanks to the collaboration with FFA and the Fiji Maritime Academy (FMA) who supported the women in completing the formal training to attain the skills and knowledge to become a competent longline vessel crew. This is the first crew we are putting out to fish for our company post-covid so it is particularly symbolic for us that it is also our very first all female deck crew. We know they will make us proud.’
Sailing with chief officer Joana Vakaucautadra are engineer cadet Linda Fong, bosun Sereana Railala Cakacaka and deckhands Kasanita Vakarairai, Joana Kasani, Adi Kelera Lutunauga and Viviana Vakavuraka Bogitini.
This female crewing initiative is the first phase of a project that is planned to be progressively rolled out in other Pacific countries by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency with local partners.