Women’s role in sea cucumber fisheries

Women and men interviewed in Nusa Tengah, Semporna. Photo: Poh Sze Choo.

Updated February 2013!

In her recent paper in the SPC Beche-de-mer Information Bulletin, Poh Sze Choo reported, among other results,  on a survey of gender roles in sea cucumber fishing in Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia.

She found that “fishers who collect sea cucumbers in Semporna belong to either the Bajau Tempatan or Bajau Laut communities. Most of the fishers are men who mainly fish at night either alone, with friends or with family members (usually their sons). A small number of fishers in Denawan and Nusa Tengah fish with their wives and daughters. In areas where sea cucumbers are still found on shallow reef flats (e.g. Nusa Tengah), women and children frequently glean for sea cucumbers during low tide.” And both women and men are involved in processing the sea cucumbers.

In another article in the same issue of the Information Bulletin, Majid Afkhami and co-authors noted that for the sea cucumber fisheries of Iran and Oman, no women and children were involved in the dive fishery of Iran (Qeshm Island), but that in Oman, when all collection was during low tide and by hand, 50% of were women and children, but this dropped to 15% more recently as the fishery started to became also a dive fishery.

These results raise the question of whether, as, in many parts of the world, sea cucumbers are no longer abundant in shallower waters more accessible to women, women are becoming marginalized in sea cucumber fisheries.


Further information on women in sea cucumber fisheries:

Thanks to a comment from Khalfan Al Rashdi, readers may also be interested to learn about women’s roles in sea cucumber harvesting in Oman. The link to that paper is: (http://www.spc.int/DigitalLibrary/Doc/FAME/InfoBull/BDM/25/BDM25_17_AlRashdi.pdf).

This very interesting  2007 paper points out that 50% of the beche de mer fishers in your study were women, indicating that men fished in a wider range of fishery types and that children also fished for beche de mer. The traders also seek out the women and other fishers, indicating the high demand for the product.

Choo Poh Sze has also offered her perspectives on women in sea cucumber fisheries more generally:

“Thank you for the link. Sea cucumber being a sedentary species easily collected by hand during low tide is especially suitable for women and children. However when the sea cucumbers are no longer available from the shallow reef flats due to overfishing, sea cucumber landings from women and children will be adversely affected as men will then fish for sea cucumbers in the deeper ares by either free diving or using compressors or  scuba equipment. Night fishing is also practised as sea cucumber are most active at night and scour the seabed.”