How many women fish in Brazil?

Sarah-Harper-2009Sarah Harper, PhD Candidate
Fisheries Economic Research Unit, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, The University of British Columbia, Canada.
Supervisor: Dr. Rashid Sumaila.e-mail:

Women in fisheries: overlooked and undervalued.

In many parts of the world, including Brazil, fishing is considered a male domain. The generally accepted division of labour has men going out to catch fish while women stay onshore to process and sell the fish, and to do various other fishing-related activities. However, looking a little deeper, we can see that this division is neither clear nor stable. There is a growing body of literature which highlights that women also fish, but major gaps exist in our understanding of the varied and dynamic nature of the roles and contributions by women in fisheries. In some regions of the world, because of a focus on the role of small-scale fisheries in food security and poverty alleviation, the contributions of women have been made more visible, while for other countries and regions these contributions have been largely overlooked. From an economic perspective, this understates the important role that women in fisheries play in food security and local economies, while from an ecological perspective, this underestimates human pressure on marine ecosystems (Harper et al. 2013). In an effort to raise the profile of women in fisheries, I am interested in quantifying these contributions on a global scale. For some countries data exist, while for many others, information is sparse. To fill these gaps and as part of my PhD research, I am asking, on a country-by-country basis, how many women participate directly and indirectly in fisheries.

Studies that highlight women in Latin American fisheries are limited in contrast to other regions such as Asia and Africa. However, the gender dimension of fisheries is receiving increasing attention around the world, from local community groups all the way up to national policy makers.

So what do we know about women in fisheries in Brazil?

Dona Vera fishing in Bahia. Photo by Laura Honda

Dona Vera fishing in Bahia.
Photo by Laura Honda

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations publish online fisheries profiles for countries all around the world. The country profile for Brazil, estimates that in 2008 women represented 34% of fishers, numbering approx. 238,000 out of a total of 694,000 fishers, with the majority of fishers located in the North and Northeast of the country. Interestingly, women represented a larger percentage of total fishers in the North and Northeastern regions (34-38%), than in the Midwest, South, and Southeastern regions (19-28%). However, it is not clear whether these numbers refer only to direct fishing activities or may include some indirect fishing activities such as processing. Furthermore, these numbers may fail to reflect participation by women in fisheries activities that are simply considered household duties. In any case, women do fish in Brazil (Rocha and Pinkerton 2015).

In the State of Bahia, over 20,000 women participate in shellfish collection as marisqueiras, while in the state of Maranhão, women have been recognized for their role in the capture of shrimp from shore using small nets, a practice that also occurs in other Brazilian states (Diegues 2008). Women have also been recognized as participants in shrimp, crab and mollusk fisheries in the south of Bahia (Di Ciommo 2007). To highlight the significance of women’s role in one particular fishery, a study conducted on the Northeast coast of Brazil (Ponta do Turbarão) found that Venus clam (Anomalocardia brasiliana) harvesting and processing is an activity dominated by women (i.e., two thirds of active clam harvesters were women, accounting for 80% of the registered clam harvest activity). Based on a survey of 20 families, a total of roughly 450 tonnes of clams were harvested annually, the majority being collected and processed by women (Rocha 2013). Men also participated but only as a secondary fishing activity when other target species were unavailable or in times of economic need.

Dona Vera. Photo By Laura Honda

Dona Vera.
Photo By Laura Honda

In addition to direct capture activities, women are also involved in various other aspects of Brazilian fisheries, including processing and marketing activities and to a lesser extent in fisheries management and decision-making (Di Ciommo 2007).  A study that investigated fish processing in Southern Brazil found that 57% of plant workers were women (Josupeit 2004).  Interviews with fishing families at Itaipu Beach, Rio de Janeiro also found that women are involved in fish processing and net manufacturing. However, the study went on to highlight women’s important role in providing social and economic stability within the community, especially in response to changing local conditions and external pressures (Barbosa and Begossi 2004).

These are only a few examples, covering only a portion of the country and its fisheries. While these indeed highlight the varied roles of women in the fisheries of Brazil, they provide only snapshots of an often overlooked aspect of fisheries-the role and contributions of women. I am curious what other examples exist that would help provide a more complete picture of women in the fisheries of Brazil as a whole. If you have any information on participation by women in the marine fisheries of Brazil or any other maritime fishing country of the world, please contact me so that it can be included in a global assessment of women in fisheries.


  • Barbosa, S.R. da C.S. and Begossi, A. (2004) Fisheries, Gender and Local Changes at Itaipu Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: an individual approach. MultiCiência 2, 1–14.
  • Di Ciommo, R.C. (2007) Pescadoras e pescadores: a questão da equidade de gênero em uma reserva extrativista marinha. Ambiente & sociedade 10, 151–163.
  • Diegues, A.C. (2008) Marine protected areas and artisanal fisheries in Brazil. Samudra Monograph. Chennai.
  • Harper, S., Zeller, D., Hauzer, M., Pauly, D. and Sumaila, U.R. (2013) Women and fisheries: contribution to food security and local economies. Marine Policy 39, 56–63.
  • Josupeit, H. (2004) Women in the fisheries sector of Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil. FAO Fisheries Circular No . 992. Rome.
  • Rocha, L.M. (2013) “Ecologia Humana Manejo Participativo Da Pesca Do Búzio Anomalocardia brasiliana (Gmelin, 1791)(Bivalvia: Veneridae) Na Reserva De Desenvolvimento Sustentável Estadual Ponta Do Turbarão (RN).”
  • Rocha, L.M. and Pinkerton, E. (2015) Comanagement of clams in Brazil: a framework to advance comparison. Ecology and Society 20, 7.