Josephine Estrera begins her day at 5:30 in the morning. She prepares her husband’s breakfast and assists him in loading his fishing gears in the boat. She looks after their two children once he leaves.
Sometimes, Estrera and other women from her neighborhood fish with their husbands for additional income. But often, they stay at home to take care of their family.
“The waves are so strong and it makes me dizzy. I prefer staying at home and taking care of our kids instead,” Estrera said.
There are hardly any women fisherfolk who join municipal and commercial vessels at Zambales, and it’s a common misconception for people to think that women are not directly involved in the fisheries industries.
Research from Food and Agriculture in 2018 cited several studies of feminist scholars, revealing that around the globe, women participate in the fisheries in a variety of ways, from preparing gears, mending nets and selling seafood products.
Estrera’s husband Anacleto used to fish for a private company in the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea. In Masinloc, Zambales, most fishers who reach Scarborough Shoal are employed by private companies and are paid on a commission basis per rank. Most fish in weeklong fishing expeditions.
“My body can’t handle going to farther waters anymore, which is why I decided to catch squid at nearby waters instead,” the 43-year-old fisherman said.
Anacleto used to earn better working for private commercial vessels but he started to fish at his own pace and benefit from selling his own catch.
“Fishing alone has its ups, but with only a small boat, there are also months when I couldn’t fish because my boat cannot withstand the waves of the sea,” explained Anacleto.
Compared to commercial fishers who catch basins of fish, fisherfolk like Anacleto can only carry a few kilograms. Most of his income comes from fishing squid, which a private client buys for a hundred a kilo on good days.
Like many other women in her community, Rosanna Marzon waits for her husband at a local landing site every eight o’clock in the morning.
As wives of fishermen who leave at night, they wait for their husbands to return in the morning to bring them breakfast and assist them in dropping off their catch.
“While waiting, mothers like me talk about how to budget our husbands’ earnings. Often, we have to budget P1,000 to P3,000 ($19.72 to $59.16) to a week, so while waiting we exchange ideas about which viands to cook for our families,” said Marzon.
Marzon used to till a few hectares of land in Mindanao, but moved to Luzon to seek a better life.
“Working as a farmer was difficult, especially when it’s harvest season and your crops didn’t grow the way you expected them to be, you’ll be back to zero,” she said.
“Fishing may seem easier, but the catch also depends on the weather,” she added.
Similar to Estrera, she’s focused on taking care of her four children and maintaining their home.
“I prepare my husband’s meals that he brings to the sea and watch over our children while he’s away,” said Marzon.
Most women in Masinloc participate in the fishing industry by doing post-harvest tasks such as selling.
Marites Elma, 53, a fish vendor, said that she struggles to sell fresh catch now because the main public market is closed, and there are limited tourists. On top of this, since most of the community fish, nobody really finds the need to purchase from her.
Elma rises at 4 a.m. to buy fish from local fishermen and sell it from morning to the afternoon.
“If the wet market is open, I could buy rice for my family, but since it’s closed, I’m not even sure where I’ll get the money to buy a kilo of rice,” said Elma.
When the local government closes the market, around four out of the 10 kilograms of fish are left in Elma’s stock. She earns P20 ($0.39) from each kilo which she uses to feed her family of seven.
That day, she has to budget P120 ($2.37) to pay for her investments and transportation.
“I hope the local government can also consider the situation of small fish vendors. I haven’t been earning since they closed the wet market,” Elma lamented.
Ellin Bautista sells her husband’s catch along Masinloc after lunch. Her husband leaves at 4 in the morning and returns by 1 p.m.
By 2 p.m., along with other women from her neighborhood, she brings a tray of fish to sell in the streets.
Like Estrera, she also tried to come with her husband at sea but also experienced sea sickness. To help with the expenses at home, she sells some of her husband’s catch.
“My husband can’t join the commercial fishing vessels that go farther because fishers who join large vessels have ranks. He just fishes in nearby waters while I sell his catch. I, on the other hand, can’t sell at the market because they require a permit, that’s why I sell around the streets,” said Bautista.
Fisherfolk families like Bautista’s fish at municipal waters because it’s easily accessible. They earn significantly less, around P300 to P500 ($9.86) a day, compared to fisherfolk who reach Scarborough Shoal that earn P25,000 ($493.47) per trip. They also don’t have the capital to come with commercial fishing vessels or sell at markets.
Bautista expressed that small fisherfolk like her husband are also very vulnerable to climate change.
“I worry about my husband when he goes to the sea. I noticed that times are different now, and typhoons are more frequent and the winds are stronger,” said Bautista.
The 46-year-old fish vendor said that it’s common for people to think that her husband’s job is more valuable than what she does, but she said it’s important to recognize the work that women do.
“My husband’s work is dangerous, but I also think I have a valuable contribution in our household. His work at the sea can be threatening, but I also expose myself to other people despite the pandemic just to earn additional income for our family when I sell his catch. On top of that, I also take care of the kids,” said Bautista.
Neda Santos, another fish vendor, said that the struggle of the women in the fishing industry should be talked about as much as their husbands’.
“We share the same struggle. When buyers complain about the rising prices of the fish, we’re the ones who face them and explain why we can’t sell our husband’s produce at a lower price,” said Santos.
She also added that life has been harder with the continuous oil price hikes.
“Often, it’s also us women who borrow money from lenders so that our husbands can continue fishing,” lamented Santos.
Santos concluded that women can always organize and rise above these problems collectively, but she also noted that they need proper and basic resources to survive.
This story was produced with the support of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network. It was first published in Bulatlat on 4 November 2021. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Women sort fish at a private fish landing port in Santa Cruz, Zambales / Credit: Geela Garcia.