- Open Access
“Before we asked for permission, now we only give notice”: Women’s entrance into artisanal fisheries in Chile
© The Author(s) 2018
- Received: 22 April 2018
- Accepted: 3 September 2018
- Published: 4 October 2018
Small-scale fisheries (SSF) in the Global South are increasingly subjected to the internationalisation of food systems. Guided by a feminist political ecology approach, we examine how gender relations and power structures within SSF are changing through policy interventions and market linkages. Chilean women working in SSF have traditionally been unregistered direct producers. Since the early 2000s, however, women have formally entered as fishers within this hitherto male-dominated space. Today, women constitute almost a quarter of artisanal fishers in Chile. While women have become more visible, among others, in their engagement in territorial use rights in fisheries (TURFs), little research attention has been paid to women’s roles within SSF. We redress this shortfall by examining the struggle to obtain TURFs by an all-women seaweed gatherers union in Coliumo (Bio-Bio Region, Chile). Using participatory research tools, we describe key gendered interactions and events over a local struggle for resources. Our findings show how closely related episodes of cooperation and conflict were involved in realising TURFs, which included differently-gendered relationships. While the women implicated in formalising fishing entitlements accrued individual benefit and enhanced their collective standing, the conflict left a deep scar among women in the community.
- Women seaweed gatherers
- Power struggles
- Coastal resources
- Community conflicts
As a broad-spectrum solution to sustainability problems, including depleted fisheries and loss of coastal habitats (UN 2016 SDG No. 14; Brennan 2013; IIASA 2015), there is significant attention currently being paid to algae (harvesting and aquaculture). Women working within small scale fisheries (SSF) around the world, who have traditionally been seen as a vulnerable group (Kleiber 2014; Porter 2011) are becoming increasingly active in the growth of shore seaweed and shellfish gathering and farming (de la Torre-Castro et al. 2017; Brennan 2013; Ramachandran 2012) thereby contributing to the livelihood strategies of coastal populations as well as securing additional incomes for women.
This paper details the experience of a Chilean women seaweed shore gatherers fishing union in the small fishing community of Coliumo in southern Chile. In particular, we focus on the struggle by an all-female union to attain exclusive use rights for fisheries (TURFs) and to exercise these rights.1 In 1997 in Chile, TURFs as an institution, came into being as a solution to halt resource degradation after an export boom of benthic resources and diverse policy efforts failed to solve the fishery crisis (Gallardo 2008; Gelcich et al. 2012, 2017; Orensanz et al. 2005). As an institution, TURFs have their origins in feudal Japan. In both the ancient and more their contemporary manifestations, TURFs place control of fisheries with fisher associations (Gallardo 2008). Different forms of TURF have been promoted as pathways to sustainable SSF around the world (Camacho and Steneck 2017; Afflerbach et al. 2014; Cancino et al. 2007; Saunders et al. 2016).
Since its inception in Chile in 1997, TURF encompasses practically all artisanal fishers working with benthic resources in the country (Box 1). The process of establishing TURFs involved struggles for recognition, as well as having implications for gender and material relations in fisheries. During this time, women’s involvement also increased in other emerging fishery-related activities (e.g. processing plants—mainly related to salmon and value adding of marine products e.g. tourism and gastronomy) (Álvarez et al. 2017). Women slowly but surely started to officially register nationally, predominantly as seaweed gatherers.
To apply for exclusive rights for benthic resources, artisanal fishers are required to organise as collectives. The sea areas available for the development of TURFs are established regionally through a supreme decree (Gallardo 2008). When two or more artisanal fishing organisations claim the same area, or when the areas are overlapped, the nearest situated to the proposed TURFs is given precedence. If there is more than one fishing organisation in the same place and both are interested in TURFs, priority is given to the one with most members. If both are equal in numbers, the oldest is favoured (LGPA 1991, Art. 48). For the applicant fisher organisation, the process to establish a TURF involves three steps: (1) a proposal of base situation study (ESBA), (2) the execution of the ESBA and (3) the formulation of a management and exploitation plan project for the area (Ibid). When the project is approved by Subsecretaría de Pesca (SUBPESCA), the applicant organisation attains a TURFs entitlement through an agreement that is in effect for 4 years and which is renewable by the same procedure (Ibid).
It has been widely argued by scholars and Chilean fishing authorities that TURFs in Chile has empowered and strengthened SSF (cf. Crona et al. 2016; Moreno and Revenga 2014; Gallardo and Friman 2010; Gelcich et al. 2012; Gallardo et al. 2011; San Martin et al. 2010). As much as there has been some progress at a more general level to make women’s contributions more visible, recognised and possibly enhanced, further detailed empirical-based research is needed to provide firm evidence for such optimism. This work needs to encompass a mapping of interaction that not only describes women’s situations and strategies with the unfolding of key events, but also illustrates the constraints that restrict their possibilities for manoeuvre and advancement (de Sardan 2005). While keeping in mind global processes that are implicated in instigating initiatives like TURFs, here we focus mostly on capturing gendered power relations to shed light on the struggle for resource access, exercise and constraints to both informal and formal powers in a localised Chilean TURFs context.
Despite TURFs’ central focus on benthic resources, some fisher organisations working with open-sea fishing have also applied and obtained TURFs with the consent of the authorities. We see this as contradicting the spirit of the law, in that it reduces opportunities for new pathways for others, such as women, who started to register and organise later than men. The registration system only started in 1993—incorporated as an administrative requirement of the 1991 Ley General de Pesca y Acuicultura (LGPA). Lately, TURFs have been extended to include small-scale aquaculture (limited to use of indigenous species) (Ministerio de Economía 2015). This broadening of income-earning possibilities from TURFs enhances their economic potential, but also stimulates increased competition over securing TURFs entitlements. Furthermore, since the 2013 Law No. 20.657, fishers with TURFs have the possibility to request the exclusive exploitation of benthic resources on the intertidal zone adjoining their TURFs (Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional 2013).
In Chile, the overarching definition of a fisher includes the following four categories: seaweed gatherer, boat owner, diver (mainly of shellfish) and fisher. Therefore, a seaweed gatherer is a fisher (or a category of fisher) in the Chilean context. SERNAPESCA (Servicio Nacional de Pesca) only includes in its statistics fishers registered on the National Fishing Register, which is why a large number of unregistered fishers are not counted.
Fishers unions with TURFs designation in Coliumo
Resolution management and exploitation plan (PMEA)
No. of members
STIb Pescadores Caleta Coliumo
ca 150 (mos)
STI Pescadoras Artesanales Recoletoras de Algas (union 1)
STI Pescadores Artesanales Recoletores de Orilla y Algueros (union 2)
Part of the 1997 designated TURFs is ceded to union 2 in 2008
Nonetheless, of the total of registered fisherwomen, 24,963 are registered as seaweed gatherers, 4447 as fishers, 486 as boat owners and 56 as divers (RPA, SERNAPESCA 2016a, b; see above-mentioned classification). As some can be registered in more than one category, the total sum here surpasses the total given above (26,122 registered fisherwomen).
Between 2004 (when fisher statistics started to be disaggregated by sex) and 2015, the number of women formally registered at SERNAPESCA had increased by 500%, while male fishers increased by 40% over this period (Registro (Registry) Pescadores Artesanales (RPA) SERNAPESCA 2012, 2015). It is likely that these statistics understate women’s participation in SSF, as not all women engaged in fisheries are formally registered (Godoy et al. 2005).
Presently, there is a total of 1318 artisanal fishing organisations (SERNAPESCA 2016a, b) of which 70.5% are of mixed gender, 26.6% are men only and 2.8% of women only. Thus, mixed organisations are predominant. This indicates that when women unionise, they tend to do so by joining already established men’s organisations. In 2005,2 of the then total of 652 existing fisher organisations, the majority (77.4%) were unions in all the regions, with the exception of one region, where guild associations dominated.
Women in artisanal fisheries in Chile have traditionally been unregistered direct producers on the shore, with men working from boats, either near the shore or in the open sea. Since early 2000, however, women have been formally entering fisheries—up until then it was an overwhelmingly male-dominated space. Within this context, seaweed gathering has become institutionalised/formalised, enhancing its importance as a livelihood strategy for women situated in vulnerable coastal locations (Godoy et al. 2005; Álvarez et al. 2017; Calderón and Morales 2016). Extra income within the salmon aquaculture industry in Southern Chile has also increased women’s economic power, which is generating shifts in gender roles (Álvarez et al. 2017).
Chilean export of algae is not a new phenomenon; however, it has ramped up in recent years. Relatively small amounts of algae (i.e. 1567 tonnes) began to be exported to USA and Japan in 1967. However, it is with the neoliberal opening of the market, during Pinochet’s dictatorship that algae extraction and export of benthic resources in general boomed. When neo-liberal incentivised export started in 1978, 9015 tonnes of algae were landed, which increased over 200% in 1985 to 182,410 tonnes. In 1995, landings increased to 299,221 tons. By 2005, landings had increased again to 425,343 tonnes. The peak was reached in 2013 when landings rose to 517,929 tonnes. By 2015, landings had decreased to 345,704 tonnes, (SERNAPESCA 2018). In 1990, the export of algae was equivalent to 18.6 million dollars, while in 2007 it reached 41.5 million dollars (Calderón and Morales 2016).
Women’s increasing participation in SSF in Chile implies not only increasing numbers, but also an unfolding (slow, but significant) process of gender desegregation of fisheries. Despite women’s integration into SSF being evident now for some time, thereby showing a clear trend that should be regarded as more than a temporary phenomenon, there are few studies that examine this gendered change with important political economy implications. The emergence of women in SSF is generating novel scenarios, creating tensions and conflicts (Gallardo and Friman 2010; López 2006) over access to and use of natural resources; not only between women and men, but also among women. Despite this, there is a pronounced gender blindness in SSF research in Chile with some notable exceptions, such as López (2003, 2006); Donoso et al. (2016) and Álvarez et al. (2017). We argue that this research bias, which centres “fishermen”, falls short if we are to understand struggles over resource access, use, environmental change (Rocheleau 1995) and opportunities for ecosystem recovery and protection (Bavington et al. 2004). As Ramachandran (2012) suggests, “Just as agriculture makes the terrestrial production system a contested space, mariculture makes the marine production system also a contested space” (p. 2).
This study is informed by a political ecology (PE) perspective that sees resource issues, such as fisheries, as fundamentally about contests between different actors over gaining control and access to these resources (Blaikie 1999; Walker 2006; Robbins 2012). We adopt a feminist political ecology approach (Ramachandran 2012; Hovorka 2006; Bavington et al. 2004; Rocheleau 1995) to analyse power relations of fisherwomen working with seaweed to secure TURFs entitlements. Historically, studies focussed on women in fisheries have concentrated on their role within activities such as fish processing, preservation techniques and commercialisation. There has been little research on how gender relations and relations of production, reproduction and distribution are being affected by the changing division of labour in fisheries (i.e. women-men, women-women and men-men relationships) in relation to resource use, control and access.3
Taking a gendered perspective to examining SSF is necessarily relational, involving examination of men and women in their mutual relationships in struggles over access and control of coastal resources. This approach focuses on gender aspects as part of understanding changing access and use of these coastal resources; a process we see as heavily influenced by the internationalisation of fisheries (Rocheleau 1995; Gallardo 2008). Several factors are likely to be encouraging low-income women to engage in SSFs, including the export boom which was stimulated by the globalisation of fisheries and the national gender policy launched at the beginning of the 1990s that sought to increase women’s participation (Plan de Igualdad de Oportunidades) in all aspects of Chilean social and economic life (Escobar 2003; Gallardo and Friman 2010).
Drawing on Coliumo as a case study, we aim to get insights into women’s struggle for recognition, how they have embraced their roles as fishers and how this has affected interdependencies with male fishers and relations more generally within the communities. Within this scope, important to examine is how “gender boundaries” in fishing that have in the past excluded women, are being negotiated, navigated and crossed (Nightingale 2011). Thus, this also includes a focus on TURFs’ intra-relations and the interactions between TURFs (as an institution) and other actors.
as individual licenced seaweed gatherers,
as organised seaweeds gatherers forming unions/associations to apply for their own single-sex TURFs,
by becoming part of already existing organisations with or without TURFs or by applying for TURFs with men (Gallardo and Friman 2010; field observations 2001–2016).
A critical aspect of our study is to describe and understand the extent of women’s empowerment and increased agency through their swelling participation in the SSF. We refer here to active agency in the sense of purposeful behaviour rather than passive action which would imply “action taken when there is little choice” (Kabeer 2010:15). Insofar as we consider different axes of power in our account, we mostly focus on women’s struggles to establish a viable TURF. In doing so, we examine how women’s “new identity” as fishers rubs up against other more entrenched identities related to local socio-cultural norms, such as expectations about women’s role in the community (i.e. taking care of the household and the children; not having public representative roles, such as being President of the Union’s boards; not attending conferences, workshops and courses in other locations if it requires being away for several days). The former leader of the national organisation of artisanal fishers (CONAPACH) is a woman, who has been re-elected several times (El Ciudadano 2011; Terram 2010–2011). SERNAPESCA (2017a, b) reported that in 2017, there were 1091 women holding key positions in the 1440 registered artisanal fisher organisations: 290 as presidents, 424 as secretaries and 381 as treasurers.
To examine the shift in gendered relations in SSF that has come about through TURFs, we focus on how this trajectory has been shaped in an agency and structure relationship (Saunders et al. 2016). Understanding the local politics (within broader structures) of these changes necessitates locating the sources and agents of influence and power, including frictions (through informal and formal institutions) that are working to constrain and/or limit change. The account also seeks to capture the role that outsiders had on the gender dynamics in Coliumo as well as key acts of inclusion and exclusion and their implications. Furthermore, we focus on changes in gender roles and relations (related to SSF and the emergence of TURFs) over time to identify important factors at play during the struggles to establish a TURF.
New social landscapes of cooperation, competition and conflicts around coastal resources
New gender roles and relations within organisations, communities and households
Gender differences in managing and operating TURFs.
Our key focus was to understand fisherwomens’ experiences and perspectives, but we also sought views from fishermen and others who have a stake in local fisheries. Our case study centres on the experience of the all-female Coliumo Union 2 in the Bio-Bio region; a region that has the highest percentage of women fishers in the country (34%) (RPA, SERNAPESCA 2016a, b). Coliumo offers a rich case study setting with an array of study variables that support exploration of our empirical research dimensions including collaboration, competition and conflicts.
In engaging with the fisherwomen collectively, we employed a range of participatory data collection tools (Burns 2018; Pretty et al. 1995), including brain storms about the past, present and future, TURFs mapping, analysis of TURFs’ strengths and weaknesses and strategy development workshops for which we invited fishing authorities as well as regional and communal government. To deepen our insights, we also conducted a series of individual semi-structured interviews with nine women (not belonging to the union board) and six men, composed of three active and three retired fishermen. We also interviewed two entrepreneurs engaged in activities with union 2, as well as representatives from fishing agencies. This methodology was supported by a review of the pertinent academic and grey literature. This diversity of methods enabled the collection of different types of empirical data on organisational processes, changing relations, perceptions and practices.
As in other Chilean fishing coves, historically the gender division of labour within fisheries in Coliumo was pronounced. Women collected by the shore, whereas, men fished at sea. Prior to 2000, there was one fishermen’s union in Coliumo (created in 1950); today there are six. While four are made up exclusively of men, two are all-female. Only one (the first listed union in Table 1) of the men’s union have TURFs, which was established in 1997. It is remarkable that in such a small locality, where there is a high degree of kinship between its inhabitants, that there are so many fishing unions and that two of these are all-female. While our study focuses on union 2, some of the other unions play a pivotal role in the unfolding story recounted below (see Table 1).
Table 1 summarises some key dates and details of the establishment of the three TURFs in Coliumo, which are connected to the case study. These details are not easy to follow from SERNAPESCA’s records, but key for our purpose is that union 2 formalised its TURFs designation in 2008.
The TURFs’ interventions have stimulated complex, significant and lasting episodes of conflict and cooperation which have in turn resulted in acts of exclusion and inclusion. The experience presented here reflects an ongoing struggle for coastal resources that TURFs, as a policy intervention, inadvertently set in motion. Important to keep in mind when reading the description below is the study focus on the formation of union 2.
If we are to move closer to achieving the cross-cutting UN Sustainable Development Goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment, the generation of knowledge that provides insights into how women are succeeding in gaining a more equal role in the management of coastal resources becomes crucial. The Coliumo experience recounted here provides one such account, which is metaphorically captured in the following quote from a fisherwoman about how they notified their husbands when leaving the family home: “Before we asked for permission, now we only give notice”.
Arguably, Roman’s (1994) view that women enter jobs, because men have vacated them as they (men) move into higher status roles is supported here, as the Coliumo men actively chose not to use their TURFs entitlement because it was not seen to be lucrative enough compared to traditional offshore pelagic fishing. Rather than men vacating a role to move into a higher status position, men declined to assume the less lucrative option in the first place, which then opened-up opportunities for women.
However, this study showed how Coliumo women through the formation of unions and designation of TURFs acted in concert to take advantage of favourable export conditions and an emerging, more gender inclusive institutional fisheries context to formally enter a relatively new socio-economic sector, which reflects a pattern that has been recognised in other parts of Chile (Gallardo and Friman 2010). Furthermore, in the light of the increasing interest in aquaculture worldwide, women through their TURFs entitlements may well play a key role in building a more prosperous (and sustainable) future for their families and communities. While there were episodes of difficult conflicts, it appears to be unequivocal that women in both unions (1 and 2) were empowered through the process of union formation and TURFs designation. Conflict and cooperation are closely juxtaposed here, with one stimulating the other. Ultimately, despite the ferment that erupted at times during the TURFs formations, this experience has enhanced women’s capacities to act and influence decisions over coastal resource access and use. It has also given many of the women involved, confidence to advocate their interests within community and institutional governance arrangements, enhanced standing in the general community, increased capacity to earn income and support their families, and more independence within families. The formation of both union 1 and union 2 has also been beneficial for the Coliumo community more generally, as TURFs have become an effective means to protect and reinforce the village customary rights over nearshore territory and therefore marine resources.
Both all-female unions at Coliumo should be seen as pioneers in how women can forge futures in fishing. These relatively favourable outcomes came through significant struggle, not least among the women themselves. However, these gains in Chile do not mean that gender roles in fishing will change automatically or dramatically. It remains to be seen how much potential TURFs have to usurp deeply entrenched gender norms in fisheries or deliver substantial development opportunities for women.
While we focussed on women’s interaction with each other through the TURFs institutional setting, our findings also showed changing relations with men in their roles that affect women as freshly minted fishers with formalised fishing rights. These roles variously include husbands, members of shared communities, and institutional fisheries actors. The study showed that while there was evidence of some men resisting the new gender roles of women as fishers, gender relations are not fixed, but dynamically constituted in and through changing institutional arrangements and socio-economic relations (Ramachandran 2012; Bavington et al. 2004; Rocheleau 1995). Somewhat paradoxically, the results indicate the stickiness and dynamism of gender relations as a constitutive element of broader social relations. Furthermore, it also highlights the paramount role that community-based institutions such as TURFs can play in changing access and use of these coastal resources. A process we see as heavily influenced by the internationalisation of fisheries both in terms of the concerns of overexploitation because of the resource boom (which was a factor in the instigation of TURFs, but still an ongoing concern) and because export-orientated benthic markets may in some instances offer opportunities for women to enhance their economic power in social relations (Rocheleau 1995).
While it is too early to tell whether small-scale aquaculture within designated TURFs can resolve concerns about overexploitation, it is clear that TURFs have significant potential to not only support more equity in gender relations, but to enhance opportunities for sustainable development among communities in coastal regions.
Lessons from our case study include the importance of supporting formation initiatives as well as creating community awareness on the rights and obligations of TURFs entitlements. These two aspects seem to have been lacking among women in Coliumo. What was previously considered as a right under customary law i.e. extracting resources from the sea in accord with local understandings (norms), no longer held if that portion of the sea was part of TURFs. Without this awareness (and relatedly acceptance of the legitimacy of the TURFs), it is understandable that those who were excluded from membership of the fishing unions and their TURFs in Coliumo remonstrated and clashed with TURFs members. Perhaps conflict could have been avoided or at least mitigated if fishing authorities had worked more in an outreach role to create more community awareness before implementing TURFs.
The TURF in Chile are known popularly as Areas de Manejo (Management Areas or MA), but officially as AMERB (Areas de Manejo y Explotación de Recursos Bentónicos; MEARB in English: Management Exploitation Areas of Benthic Resources).
Information on how the situation looks today is not available.
Dichato has its own TURFs. These rights were granted in 1998 and the associated fishing organisation has 87 members. The name indicates that they also practice aquaculture (STI del Mar y Acuicultores de la Pesca Artesanal Caleta Dichato). The accounts given by Coliumo people, do not suggest that poachers belong to the Dichato TURFs or that all fishers from Dichato were or are poachers.
First of all, we would like to thank the members of union no. 2 for their participation and hospitality during our fieldwork visits in Coliumo that resulted in the writing of this article in addition to a book (forthcoming), as well as the anonymous member of union 1 who also kindly agreed to partake in this study. The 2017 trip was a cooperation with the Arturo Prat University through its Institute of Science and Technology, directed by M.Sc. M. Avila, who along with the D. Rodriguez and N. Moscoso also participated in the field work. Researchers in the ISCC 2014 field work, besides Gallardo and Saunders, were: PhD E. Friman (Uppsala University), PhD A. Espinoza (Universidad de Concepción) and R. Díaz (UAHC). Then master students in Sustainable Development (Uppsala University), P. Lenninger, I. Greco and A. Isakson were also part of the research team. The 2016 field work was undertaken by Gallardo, Saunders, Greco and Isakson with support from PhD R. Torres (Universidad de Concepción).
The 2014 trip was financed by the International Social Science Council (ISCC) as part of the JUSTMAR project (Global Marine Governance Network for Justice: Co-constructing Sustainable Fisheries Future”. The 2016 and 2017 field trips were supported by The Swedish Research Council as part of the network grant “Co-constructing a Sustainable Fisheries Future through TURF. A comparison between Vietnam and Chile”.
Both authors have contributed to the data collection (Saunders, partially), data analysis, and structuring and writing the article.
Compliance with ethical standards
Availability of data and material
The data underpinning the findings of this article are spread over several bouts of field-work are not yet publicly available in any consolidated form.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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