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Women in aquaculture

At the global level, women’s participation in aquaculture is estimated at 70 percent of the total workforce, all production modes included. Again, this figure has only an indicative value. It is based on indications by country covering a range of fields; in some cases processing operations are included, while in others they are not (Hishamunda, 2014).
The proportion of women depends on the production mode and the type of occupation. Internationally, most of the women are found in small-scale, low capital intensive operations, in charge of all tasks. They are less present in modern industrial units, where men dominate (Monfort, 2015). Bodil Maal noted that in Norway modern aquaculture “industrialisation, vertical and horizontal integration, may potentially exclude local communities, rural people and especially women from the aquaculture sector” (Maal, 2013). Over the 20 years and more of salmon farming development, from 1990 to 2010, Norway, the world’s leading producer of salmon, experienced a 600 percent increase in farmed Salmo salar production. In the same period (from 1994 to 2010), the employment of women decreased from 20 percent in 1990 to 9 percent in 2010. There are several reasons for that decline in the employment of women. The industry has evolved from family businesses, in which women often held part-time jobs, to modern, integrated, capitalistic corporations hiring more professional employees. In the meantime, Norway’s coastal areas have benefited from an expansion in job opportunities, offering better job conditions to women than aquaculture (Pettersen and Alsos, 2007).
We have also examined women’s role in decision-making in the Norwegian and Faroese aquaculture. Norway and the Faroe Islands are world-leading in corporate governance when it comes to salmon aquaculture. Norwegian-run and Faroese-run companies account for around half of the top 20 largest salmon farmers in the world. Mergers and acquisitions have affected the composition of aquaculture companies, especially in the salmon business, and some of those companies now operate transnationally or worldwide. It may be incorrect to say that transnational companies like that have a “nationality”, even if they were founded in the Norway or Faroe Islands – but their identity and corporate culture are still influenced by the place where they were established.
As at many transnational, vertically integrated companies, the corporate structure becomes more diverse in the sense of intercultural. However, gender diversity does not always follow suit. For instance, a company owned by Mitsubishi, Japan, exhibits a glaring gender imbalance, with nine out of ten global managers and all board directors being male. That is not such a good look from a gender equality perspective.
Figure 15. Share of managers by gender in 11 largest aquaculture companies in the Nordic Region.
Sources: ilaks.no and annual reports of companies
What is promising for aquaculture compared to fisheries is that in four of 11 aquaculture companies gender representation in board of directors is even (see figure 16). Our research reveals a distinct pattern among the female board members or the major management group of such ventures. Many women hold positions as shareholders, representing family establishment values within the corporate world. Some have climbed up the ladder of the financial sector by virtue of educational merits (business school, economy degree, law degree, strategy, management etc.), while others have previous experience in governmental institutions, ministries, national central banks etc. and rise to prominence, gaining influential positions in the sector. Strikingly, many of the women in the management group of the companies are either responsible for HR or communication. However, the representation of women in the position of financial director remains limited.
Figure 16. Share of members on boards of directors by gender in largest aquaculture companies in Norway and the Faroe Islands, 2023.
Sources: ilaks.no & Annual Reports of companies
There is a stark divide in terms of age – a fairly significant proportion of the women concerned were born in the early 1960s or earlier, bringing valuable experience and seasoned leadership to the sector. Meanwhile, there are few women born in the 1980s and onwards in such positions. That does not rule out the possibility of them becoming prominent actors and influencers later, but it is interesting to note that there are numerous young men in such positions. There are exceptions to that of course – a few companies have an equal gender structure and more equal age structure among their board members.


01 Bold leadership
Top management have defined policies, strategies, goals and practices.


02 Measuring equality targets openly
A diverse leadership team that sets, shares and measures equality targets openly.


03 An empowering environment
One that trusts employees, respects individuals and offers equal opportunities.


In 2022, we received a score of 73 points (High score) in the SHE Index. The average score across Norwegian companies was 71. We have reported on the SHE Index since 2019 in order to be transparent about the gender balance in our organization. The SHE Index is a voluntary measurement of how companies perform on gender balance, gender equality policies and diversity to become a preferred employer. Change takes time, and we should pay more attention to the work being done to create greater diversity and inclusion. During 2021, Grieg Seafood has taken several steps to improve our gender balance. This includes filling vacant management positions with women both with internal and external candidates, as well as having our first female regional director. In 2021, 40% of our new hires were women. We have also pledged to support the International Organization for Women in the Seafood Industry.
Figure 17. SHE index measures at the GRIEG Seafood corporation. Grieg Seafood Annual report 2023
The figure above is an example of one approach, the SHE index, to make change within an company towards an equal workforce. Aspiring to and working towards equality is important in the industry.
In Faroe Islands, there is also a strikingly high proportion of women in aquaculture. The question remains whether this depends on educational merits and hence social mobility or whether it is due to role models in Faroese society who have impacted women’s engagement in the industry.
Figure 18. Total number of employees in Faroese aquaculture by gender, 1985-2022.
Source: Faroese National Statistics
Figure 19. Marine and freshwater aquaculture employment by gender, Denmark, 2008-2021.
Source: Statistics Denmark
In Iceland there are no gender-disaggregated data on employment in aquaculture, but the national statistics provide an overview of employers (estimated number) and employees registered (paying taxes) from 1991 through until 2021, as the graph below illustrates.
Figure 20. Employers and employees in aquaculture in Iceland, 1991-2021.
Source: Iceland statistics
In Sweden there are numerous statistical series available on aquaculture and people involved in aquaculture, as well as concerning companies, cultivation workers and fish farmers. The following table, showing employment in aquaculture over a decade, is the only one showing employment broken down by gender.
Figure 21. Employees in aquaculture by gender in Sweden, 2009-2022.
Source: SCB & Jordbruksverket
In Finland, the gender-disaggregated national statistics divide employees in aquaculture into managers, workers and fish farmers. Another category is fishery and aquaculture labourers. However, we decided not to include that in the graph below, which illustrates developments over a decade.
Figure 22. Finnish labour in aquaculture, broken down by gender and roles, 2010-2020. Source: Statistics Finland, employment
In Åland, the statistics for fishery employment and aquaculture cannot be disaggregated but they likewise show a gender-segregated labour market, with women accounting for just 17% of employees in the sector, compared to men, who accounted for 73% in 2021.
Figure 23. Number of women and men employed in aquaculture, 1994-2021 (Norway).
Source: Fishery directorate
In Norway there are gender-disaggregated employment data available for aquaculture covering a period of almost three decades. They are disaggregated by counties, with four counties dominating in terms of number of employees in this sector. The two northernmost counties, Finnmark-Troms and Nordland, followed by West Norway and Trondelag, have particularly high numbers of employees in the field of aquaculture.
Overall, we see a gender-disaggregated labour market in aquaculture too. However there seems to be a mentality that encourages women for leading positions that goes beyond national boarders with initiatives such as “weareaquaculture” on women in aquaculture, were leading women in different jobs within the sector are highlighted (weareaquaculture, 2023).