'Fish Queens' in Africa


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A woman cleans a fish while carrying her child on her back in Ghana. © Andrea Borgarello / World Bank​​Intriguing, I thought when I first heard the phrase. In Ghana’s small-scale fisheries, the 'Fish Mommy' or 'Fish Queen' is the matriarch of the fish landings. She also doubles as the local authority on all post-harvest operations, exercising a great deal of control over the local market by setting the prevailing price of that day’s fresh catch every morning on the docks of coastal communities in Ghana.

The role requires a great deal of expertise. After examining the first three landings of the morning, she makes a judgment on the market price of that day. Her price is the standard at which fish is traded with discounts for lower-quality products.

In Africa, women are more influential in the postharvest sector than that of most developed country fisheries where both harvest and postharvest sectors tend to be dominated by men, according to a recent World Bank Report, Economic, environmental, and social evaluation of Africa's small-scale fisheries.

Interestingly, this extends to women in countries other than Ghana – our knowledge of Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Senegal, and Sierra Leone also show that women tend to dominate in the postharvest area. (Read a recent story on protecting African fisheries)

The study, using Fisheries Performance Indicators (FPIs), collected data regarding women in harvest and postharvest businesses. You’ll see that women in the case-study fisheries have balanced business influence with men, while in developed countries, the men tend to dominate the business sector. Another measure looks at women’s influence over marine resource management; owing to the dearth of women in positions of power on the community management associations or the national fisheries organizations, this score is low. Other measures clearly show that across all fisheries, women are more likely to be involved in the postharvest sector.

There are a few exceptions to this delineation of gender roles. In the Kenyan fisheries, women were slightly more likely to be involved in harvesting; in Malawi, there were a larger than average number of men involved in processing.

The importance of gender in the fisheries sector is often neglected or overlooked. With the FPI measurement, it will be easier for us to compare the roles of women in fisheries across countries and identify areas for intervention.




Jingjie Chu

Natural Resource Economist

Join the Conversation

Mary Ann Landino
June 29, 2015

Hurrah for the “Fish Queen”! Her role appears to be a quick and efficient part moving the food chain from source to the consumer. Does she have adequate refrigeration and electric power that would reduce spoilage and retain full quality? The matriarch, of the three fish landings, brings to mind my visit to the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo Japan. This approximately six billion dollar operation is the world’s largest wholesale fish/seafood market and employees 65,000 workers. I question how many small villages are passed before catch reaches Japan?

Cephas Asare
February 01, 2016

Nice story. Well done!
Fish mommy and to a large extent Women fish processors in fishing communities do not only control the post harvest sector but also the harvest. They have been known to invest heavily in fishing trips. This guarantees them access to regular fish supply and hence securing their livelihood. Some have even move beyond just pre-financing fishing expeditions to owning fishing canoes which employs men - a more reason for a shift from the fisheries management strategies (national to community level) which has minimal women representation.
It is also interesting to note that virtually no fish goes to waste in fishing communities. Fish that are not smoked (the primary form of preservation) are salted and dried or used for 'stinking' fish.
Any intervention in the fisheries sector in Ghana for women should be rolled out with caution. While it may be important to reach women through existing women associations, be mindful that most of the poor women either are not members of these associations because they cannot afford to pay the dues or are overshadowed by the rich in the association. Most interventions fail to consider this; ending up in elite capture and the marginalized are not reached by the interventions. A good way to avoid this is to work with CBOs in the communities - they know the people and understand the power dynamics.