The Grueling Task of Fishing in the Caribbean Engages Increasing Number of Venezuelan Women

by Michael Nguyen
Venezuelan women fishers

As dawn approaches, large groups gather around over 50 boats spread along the Venezuelan coast of the vast Caribbean sea. Their bodies, bronzed and marked by years of fishing, prepare for the day’s work. Predominantly men, but now an increasing number of women are joining their ranks.

Some women have stepped into their family’s fishing tradition while others have pivoted to this physically challenging occupation, earning about $8 after five back-to-back 12-hour shifts, following job losses triggered by Venezuela’s economic crisis. This income is far from the estimated $390 required for a Venezuelan family to afford basic necessities per month but significantly higher than the $5 nationwide monthly minimum wage.

On June 7, 2023, both men and women fishers hauled in a net brimming with fish off the coast of Chuao, Venezuela. Maria Reyes, a woman fisher, claimed her day’s catch from June 8, intending to bring it home. She ventured into fishing after finishing high school.

On the same day, another woman fisher, Greyla Aguilera, and her coworkers were seen hauling a net onto the Chuao beach. According to Aguilera, fisherwomen depend on each other and their parents to take care of their children while they’re at sea. She assures, “There’s always someone who steps forward to make sure no woman misses her fishing shift.”

Previously limited to roles in hospitality, such as cooking and cleaning, women from the coastal communities of Choroni and Chuao have earned the respect of their male peers as they assist in the capture of thousands of pounds of fish daily. Many of these women turned to fishing as a consequence of job losses from Venezuela’s prolonged crisis, which, along with the coronavirus pandemic, crippled the area’s tourism.

Aguilera, after finishing a recent shift, commented on the growing female presence in the fishing industry, “Today, we have a significant presence. Women now participate in the fishermen’s councils, and there are women who own boats.” Aguilera further remarked on the strong character of female boat owners and their preference for a female workforce, although they do not offer any preferential treatment and demand more from women than men.

Fishing teams usually consist of four or five boats. They begin by casting a large baited net, regularly checked by a team diver. Upon sighting a shoal, the team casts a smaller net and draws it in, slowly bringing their boats closer to each other, allowing the transfer of fish from the smaller net to their boats. The catch is then sold the same day at a nearby market.

Despite the risks involved, including potential accidents jeopardizing lives and limbs, the fishers approach the job with a blend of patience, agility, and courage.

Carolina Chávez, a woman fisher, turned to fishing at age 11 due to her family’s need for food. Two years ago, a rope entangled her hand, causing a severe injury during a heavy net-lift. Despite the injury, she returned to fishing, as her family would go hungry if she stopped.

Aguilera and her colleagues managed to catch approximately 4,000 kilograms (8,800 pounds) of fish during their June shifts. Although she was to be paid $7, she brought some fish home, a common practice among workers, asking the boat owner to deduct the cost from her pay, reducing it to $5.

The coastal communities of Choroni and Chuao, known for their picturesque beaches, are situated west of Venezuela’s capital, Caracas. Chuao is also famous for producing Venezuela’s most treasured cacao, the main ingredient in chocolate. However, the chocolate industry, along with others, has suffered due to the country’s ongoing crisis, leading to an increase in the number of people turning to fishing. Despite this, making a living solely from fishing remains nearly impossible.

Among these fisherwomen, some process and clean fish. Aguilera, holding degrees in law and culinary arts, additionally tutors young children, offers English lessons to older ones, and even does photography for baptisms and first communions. She is currently experimenting with regional ingredients like cacao, coconut, and lime in her recipes, aspiring to open a café.

Unreliable electricity and internet services, along with severe underpayment of public school teachers, contribute to the struggles faced by these coastal communities. Childcare facilities are virtually non-existent. Aguilera emphasized how the community’s women support each other, ensuring no woman misses her fishing shift due to childcare issues, highlighting the combination of machismo and matriarchy present in the community.

Aguilera concluded, “We women stand together. If you need to tend to your children because your shift is coming up, I, or your cousin, or your grandmother – anyone will step in to help, allowing you to go fishing.”

Report provided by García Cano from Caracas.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Venezuelan women fishers

Why are more women in Venezuela turning to fishing?

Due to Venezuela’s ongoing economic crisis, many women have lost their jobs. Fishing, despite its physical demands and potential risks, is seen as a viable option due to its higher earnings when compared to the nationwide minimum wage.

What are some of the challenges that Venezuelan women fishers face?

Fishing is a physically demanding job that requires patience, agility, and courage. It involves long shifts and the risks of serious injuries. Additionally, there are societal challenges to overcome as they navigate in a predominantly male industry.

How does the community support women fishers?

The community, while still demonstrating machismo traits, shows a strong matriarchal support system. Fisherwomen rely on each other and their family members to take care of their children while they are at sea. There is a sense of shared responsibility, ensuring that no woman misses her fishing shift due to childcare issues.

What are the earnings of a woman fisher in Venezuela?

The earnings can be variable but the report mentioned that a woman can earn about $8 after five back-to-back 12-hour shifts. This is significantly higher than the $5 nationwide monthly minimum wage in Venezuela. However, making a living solely from fishing remains nearly impossible due to the cost of living.

What other roles do these women take on aside from fishing?

Many women, in addition to fishing, undertake other jobs to supplement their income. For instance, Greyla Aguilera, a fisherwoman mentioned in the report, tutors young children, teaches English to older ones, and photographs events like baptisms and first communions. She is also working on recipes with the hope of opening a café.

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Carolina1986 July 2, 2023 - 4:27 am

It’s heartwarming to see the community stepping up for each other! Times r tough but together we r stronger! Vamos Venezuela!

Javier_Herrera July 2, 2023 - 11:19 pm

This article really highlights the hard life that these women lead. I mean five 12 hour shifts for 8 dollars, that’s tough. really puts things in perspective.

Pedro_Silva July 3, 2023 - 1:43 am

Reading this is a stark reminder of the struggles our people are going thru. i hope things get better soon. Venezuelans deserve better


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