International Women’s Day 2024: Turning the tide in the Australian Seafood Industry

Women are an important component of the Australian seafood industry. Today, on International Women’s Day, we recognise the hard-working women in Australian commercial fishing and the seafood supply chain and the value that diversity brings to our industry.

Currently, it is estimated that just 24 per cent of the Australian seafood industry’s workforce are women. Increased participation of women in the industry will build a more diverse, skilled workforce, ready to tackle the emerging technological, environmental, and economic challenges to ensure the efficient management of Commonwealth fisheries and the security of the Australian fishing industry.

Sharing insights and stories from our industry will help to inspire the next generation of women. Women in Seafood Australasia Vice-Chair and South Australia Director and former Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) observer, Claire Webber, shares her thoughts on the importance of female participation in the industry.

Quote from Claire Webber

Current role and career background

Being raised in Port Lincoln definitely aided my decision to study for my Bachelor of Administration (Marine Resources) which is a fisheries management degree.

I moved to New Zealand and worked for the Ministry of Fisheries as an Observer. I would verify catch independent of the vessel, collect data to underpin the quota management system and undertake marine mammal and bird observations.

I generally worked a roster 50 days on, 50 off on board large deep-sea trawlers fishing a number of species including orange roughy, hoki, blue whiting, squid, mackerel and hake. These expeditions took me all over New Zealand from the Chatam Rise to the Challenger Plateau and the Auckland Islands on the way to Antarctica.

Often, I was the only female and English speaker on board, it was a real culture shock, but I had a sink or swim moment when I thought ‘the NZ Government thinks you can do this, so get on with it’.

During my time off I would often work for AFMA as an Observer on demersal or pelagic long-liners.

Working as an AFMA Observer gave me a wide range of fisheries to work across. My interest in fishing drove my desire to cover as many different gear types and species as I could, as there are never two vessels or trips the same! Moving around different ports was an awesome way to see the country and gain an understanding of the unique fishing culture in each town.

One of my favourite places to fish out of was Sydney. The fish market is right there, with wholesalers, retailers and customers right on the dock, so you can see the entire supply chain at work in close proximity. Also, heading out to fish under the bridge and through the harbour was unreal.

Funnily enough the biggest challenge I faced as an Observer was not gender related, although there were circumstances that arose — it was my absolute ability to get seasick every.single.trip!

I had to work very hard to manage motion sickness on the job, and thankfully there are some great medications to help with this.

As the research and liaison officer for Australia Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association, I was heavily involved in hands-on operations in the aquaculture industry. This included management of the research projects, industry data collection on fish health, water monitoring and environmental conditions, licencing and policy, marketing and industry promotion.  

Today, I am the Executive Officer of the South Australian Sardine Industry Association, and work closely with a fleet of 11 purse-seiners.

The role extends my advocacy skill set as I need to really understand the factors influencing skippers and licence holders ability to efficiently and sustainably go fishing in order to achieve the management objectives of the fishery.

How did you become interested in a career in the seafood industry?

The fishing industry in Port Lincoln is male-oriented and it didn’t really enter my head that I could work on a boat as it was not work role-modelled by women in the town.

In year 12, my school offered marine biology as a subject and that’s when I started thinking about further study in the maritime sector. I realised that women in this industry were not unheard of — in fact there should be more of us!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The diversity of the role — working on a tuna harvest one day, cutting up guts for scientific sampling on another, meeting dignitaries at a luncheon, data entry and reporting — there’s such a variety of work to do.

What are your career highlights?

Working on the Russian trawlers was a character forging experience and helped me to develop resilience. I was awarded the National Seafood Young Achiever Award at Seafood Directions in 2015, so that was a great highlight.

What motivates you each day?

An urge to contribute and be an active member of society. I don’t want to be on the sidelines and have people miss out on valued contributions to our society.

Who are your female role models?

Olivia Newton-John and funnily enough the fictional character Dr Quinn Medicine Woman. These women were an inspiration to me in childhood and beyond. They role model resilient and strong traits, whilst being at the top of their fields often facing huge challenges.

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern is a modern-day example of a positive role model, especially given the birth of her daughter during her time in politics. Jacinda and her partner are excellent role models for flexible parenting, which is crucial to female participation in the maritime workforce.

What would you say to women interested in joining the Australian seafood industry?

Try pairing education with practical experience, as the experiences you have on the job are just as valuable as a qualification, or in some circumstances more so!  

If you are interested in working for the Australian Fisheries Management Authority as an observer, information about the role and how to join the team is available on our website.

Women in Seafood Australasia (WISA) is a national network inclusive of those who support furthering the interests, positioning and opportunities for women in the seafood industry. From women working on the boats, in farms and factories, post-harvest and processing, leading innovation or research, new ventures, management, or government and policy making, WISA welcomes members across the entire supply chain. More information about WISA is available on their website.

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