In Natural Resources Magazine
"From Johah To NOAA: Women in the Fisheries Profession"
November 4, 2000, by Gwen White
Dr. J. Frances
Allen examining clams at the Seafood Processing
photo courtesy of J. Frances Allen.
In her book The Hungry Ocean, Linda Greenlaw periodically
discusses her experiences as one of the only female
swordfish boat captains on the Eastern Shore of
North America. Greenlaw mentions that one traditional
aspect of commercial fishing consists of using superstitions
to psych-ologically combat the vagaries of nature
inherent in the trade. She stated that, "Of the
many superstitions of which I am aware, the only
one that I flat-out refuse to embrace is that women
are 'Jonahs' (bad luck aboard boats). For seventeen
years now, I have returned to port every time I
have departed. This has shaken the beliefs of at
least a few of the most superstitious of old sailors,"
As more women enter the traditionally male-dominated
fields of fisheries research and management, their
skill and leadership are dispelling other beliefs
that may have kept interested women from entering
these fields. The 1999-2004 Strategic Plan of the
American Fisheries Society defines professional
diversity as "the number and heterogeneity of members
in terms of academic discipline, occupation, employer,
subject matter expertise, educational background,
and work experience." Social diversity is defined
as "the number and heterogeneity of members in terms
of race, ethnicity (region of origin),gender, physical
and mental ability, and beliefs."
Stereotypes often affect professional and social
diversity, and in turn, are affected by these. For
instance, women are often thought of as avoiding
study topics that require fieldwork. Hiring trends
in some government agencies suggest that women have
been hired, but are less likely to be promoted into
decision-making levels (Gessner et al. 1993). Historically,
individuals engaged in fisheries management were
white men who grew up with recreational hunting
and fishing-and the programs supported by agencies
have tended to reflect the interests of this constituency
(Baker 2000). However, the 1991 National Survey
of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation
revealed that the number of female anglers had jumped
by 33% over 11 years; and that women and minorities
paid out one-fourth of the total fishing expenditures
in the United States (AFS 1996). In addition to
a changing recreational clientele, fisheries managers
now must address many new issues, including urban
fisheries, relationships between fish health and
human health, and Native American fishing rights
(Baker 2000). These new issues and management topics
not only are attracting non-traditional groups to
the profession, but also may require the new perspectives
that these individuals bring with them.
Over the past century women have gradually but convincingly
proven themselves in agencies and institutions around
the world. In 1871, Spencer Baird, Secretary of
the InstituSmithsoniantion and first commissioner
of the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries, arrived
in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to establish what
would become a premier fisheries research facility.
This institution initiated the careers of a number
of women and minorities from the U.S. and other
countries. As early as 1927, the first black woman
to receive a Ph.D. in zoology, Roger Arliner Young,
was conducting research at the Marine Biological
Laboratory in Woods Hole. The Commission of Fish
and Fisheries eventually became the National Marine
Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Agency (NOAA), which has employed womenlike Spanish-born
larval fish researcher Angeles Alvarino.
ROLE MODELS: Women in the Fisheries and Aquatic
Many children develop a sense of what they can achieve
by observing role models on television and by reading
about them in books. A recent survey of information
on women in the fisheries and aquatic sciences that
was available in local libraries and on the internet
suggests that readily accessible role models fall
into only a few categories (White 2000). Information
available to the public on aquatic sciences often
shows researchers involved in deep sea explorations
(such as Sylvia Earle); species perceived to be
dangerous such as sharks (Eugenie Clark); laboratory
research (Roger Arliner Young); and environmental
sciences (Rachel Carson). The stories of these women
reveal the challenges and triumphs of being a woman
in what were traditionally considered men's fields.
Information on early achievements of women in aquatic
sciences consists largely of accounts of individuals
engaged in laboratory research. Roger Arliner Young
was the first black woman to receive a doctoral
degree in zoology, obtaining her Ph.D. from the
University of Pennsylvania in 1940 (Brown 1995-2000,
Greene 1946). In the early 1920s, working with her
mentor, black researcher Ernest Everett Just, she
made a significant contribution to the study of
structures that control salt concentration in Paramecium.
She later published several notable studies on the
effects of radiation on sea urchin eggs. Young had
little help advancing her research and teaching
career, yet she demonstrated a substantial commitment
to quality in scientific research despite personal
and professional obstacles. From the 1930s to the
1950s, she taught at Howard University and several
historically Black colleges in North Carolina, Texas,
Louisiana, and Mississippi. Even so, while Just
is frequently cited in books as an example of an
early African-American scientist, Young is rarely
Perhaps one of the most famous modern conservationists-and
often the only woman mentioned in litanies of environmental
leaders was Rachel Carson. When Carson's father
and older sister died, she and her mother were left
to care for her two young nieces (Yount 1999). To
support the family, she accepted a position as Junior
Aquatic Biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries.
She was one of the first two women employed at the
agency for any type of work other than clerical
duties. In 1947, Carson became editor in chief of
the publication division for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service. She wrote the best seller The Sea Around
Us in 1961. The book was written over three years,
drawing on information about oceanography that the
government had obtained during the war. Several
other books followed, including Silent Spring,
which she developed after four years of intensive
research on the effects of pesticides. Reporter
Adela Rogers St. Johns wrote that Silent Spring
"caused more uproar…than any book by a woman
author since Uncle Tom's Cabin started a great war."
Publicity surrounding these events portrayed Carson
as an emotional female with no scientific background,
ignoring her master's degree and years as an agency
biologist. However, many scientists supported Carson's
views, as did the recommendations made by a special
panel of President John F. Kennedy's Science Advisory
Committee, which was appointed to study the issue.
Most important, Carson's work reshaped the way the
American public viewed nature. As one newspaper
editorial put it, "A few thousand words from her,
and the world took a new direction."
Another woman who could serve as an early role model
from government and resource management is J. Frances
Allen. She is a native New Yorker, received her
Bachelor's degree from Radford College, Virginia,
which was then the Women's Division of Virginia
Polytechnic Institute. After earning her M.S. and
Ph.D. degrees from the University of Maryland, she
was hired as an Assistant Professor of Zoology at
the same university, teaching courses in fisheries
and conducting research in the Chesapeake Bay. In
1958, she served as Associate Program Director for
Systematic Biology at the National Science Foundation.
From 1967 to 1973, she was Chief of the Water Quality
Requirements Branch for the Federal Water Pollution
Control Administration (later renamed the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency). The branch was responsible for
research programs for four water quality laboratories
across the country, in addition to five associated
field stations. Allen provided leadership in marine
fisheries research and pollution control, and was
a featured speaker at several international conferences.
She has received several commendations for her professional
work, including the Sustained Superior Performance
award from the National Science Foundation.
Women have long contributed to the arena of international
fisheries research and management, as well. Born
in Spain in 1916, Angeles Alvarino was an intelligent
and curious child, often exploring her father's
library and especially enjoying his books on natural
history (Saari and Allison 1996). She completed
a master's degree in 1941 and taught for seven years
until accepting a position with the Spanish Department
of Sea Fisheries in Madrid. Although the Spanish
Institute of Oceanography in Madrid officially banned
women, Alvarino conducted research and studied oceanography
there. The quality of her work persuaded officials
to admit her in 1950. She received a doctoral certificate
the following year. In 1956, she was awarded a Fulbright
Fellowship for research at Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institute in Massachusetts. The president of the
first U.S. Oceanographic Congress, Mary Sears, was
impressed with Alvarino's work and recommended her
for a position at Scripps Institute of Oceanography
in La Jolla, California. In 1970, Alvarino became
a Fisheries Biologist with the Southwest Fisheries
Science Center, a division of the newly formed National
Marine Fisheries Service. She became the first woman
to serve as a scientist on a British research vessel.
Since official retirement in 1987, she has continued
her work, adding to the body of knowledge on zooplankton.
Even fewer women are portrayed as commercial fishermen.
Recent publicity around the book The Perfect
Storm by Sebastian Junger (New York: Norton,
1997), and the subsequent movie, put swordfish boat
captain Linda Greenlaw in the spotlight. The book
described Greenlaw as "one of the best sea captains,
period, on the East Coast." The publication of The
Perfect Storm led her to write her own book in response
to the attention she was receiving. In her book
The Hungry Ocean, she talked about her perceptions
of being a lone woman in the field. She stated that,
"I never anticipated problems stemming from being
female, and never encountered any. I have been surprised,
even embarrassed, by the number of people who are
genuinely amazed that a woman might be capable of
running a fishing boat. …People, women in
particular, are generally disappointed when they
learn that I have not suffered unduly from being
the only woman in what they perceive to be a man's
world. I might be thick-skinned-or just too damn
busy working to worry about what others might think
of me," (p. 58). Rather than being intimidated by
the competition, she creatively used old stereotypes
to enhance the success of her crews. Greenlaw stated
that "No self-respecting fisherman will allow himself
to be outworked by a woman; it is a fact that brought
the best out of my crew for years," (p. 7).
Role of Professional Societies in Facilitating
Professional societies can play a significant role
in facilitating the transition of the fisheries
professions to a level of diversity that reflects
the particular constituencies of fishing and resource
conservation, as well as society as a whole. Founded
in 1870, the American Fisheries Society (AFS) is
the oldest and largest professional society representing
fisheries scientists. The mission of the American
Fisheries Society is "to improve the conservation
and sustainability of fishery resources and aquatic
ecosystems by advancing fisheries and aquatic science
and promoting the development of fisheries professionals."
Currently, three sections of AFS address diversity
issues, including the Equal Opportunities Section,
the Native Peoples Fisheries Section, and the International
Fisheries Section. A Disabilities Advisory Committee
ensures that steps are taken to provide services
at annual meetings for disabled members.
Efforts of the Society to address diversity issues
are outlined in the strategic plans of the AFS,
and particularly implemented through activities
of the Equal Opportunities Section. Examples of
Society activities that promote inclusion of women
in the fisheries profession are: tracking the participation
of members in various activities by gender; offering
awards to recognize outstanding promise in early
professional development among women students; providing
travel awards and mentors at annual meetings; disseminating
information on the historical contributions of women;
facilitating linkages between programs that support
the professional development of women and inclusion
of minorities; and encouraging the nomination of
qualified female leaders at all levels in the organization.
Women Are Increasing in the Fisheries Profession
The Society has moved forward in tracking the diversity
of its membership. There has been a dramatic increase
in the participation of women among new professionals.
Less than 2% of the individuals who have been members
of AFS for longer than 50 years are women. However,
women currently comprise over 12% of members based
on optional reporting (over 1,400 female members).
In 1997, a society-wide survey was conducted to
address various issues related to membership services
and expectations, including several aspects of diversity.
About 35% of new members (two years or less) were
female according to this survey. If these new members
are retained in the profession, gender diversity
will continue to increase.
In the earlier days of the 130-year history of the
American Fisheries Society (AFS), women were periodic
but significant leaders. J. Frances Allen began
her service for AFS in 1958, when incoming President
W. Mason Lawrence appointed her to the Resolutions
Committee. She recalls that he said he "believed
that women deserved an opportunity to participate
in the Society's activities" (J. Frances Allen,
Roxbury, NY, personal communication). Allen represented
AFS at the American Association for the Advancement
of Science and was an active member of the American
Malacological Union and Executive Committee of the
Sport Fishery Research Foundation. She served as
chair of the first AFS Board of Professional Certification,
beginning in 1967. Allen was actually the second
woman to hold an elected office in the Society.
The first was Emmeline Moore (1872-1963) who served
as President of the Society from 1927-1928 and was
employed as the Chief of Fisheries for the state
of New York. Three women have held the office of
AFS President since, including immediate past-president
Christine Moffitt of the University of Idaho.
Women are currently represented among the leaders
of the society in proportion to their membership
numbers. Women constitute over 15% of the leadership
of the society-wide leadership (sections, divisions
and governing board combined). Women have recently
led several vital task forces, including the strategic
planning committee, program committees for several
national conferences, publications overview, and
resource policy committees. However, the profession
still has a long way to go to meet the goal of accurately
reflecting half of the human population.
Recruitment and Retention Strategies
The strategic plan of the AFS presents the goal
of providing opportunities and vehicles to achieve
diversity and create a climate in which all people
are welcomed, acknowledged and appreciated. The
plan suggests that ecosystem-based and participatory
management will benefit from integration of more
disciplines and social groups in fisheries research
and management. While the organization's goals clearly
support increased diversity, not all members are
in agreement regarding the most effective and fair
approach. Concerns within the AFS reflect those
of society at large, such as whether there should
be definite targets for recruitment, or whether
overtures should be made exclusively to members
of certain groups.
To achieve diversity in its membership, the AFS
strategic plan outlines three broad areas of recruitment,
retention, and awareness. The Society must promote
an understanding of the benefits of a diverse workforce,
identify individuals from underrepresented groups
who have an interest in fisheries, effectively cultivate
their goals and aspirations, and make them feel
welcome as professionals within AFS (Keefe and Young-Dubovsky
1996). The organization has committed itself to
recruiting females, minorities, and members of various
disciplines into leadership roles to better reflect
the diversity of the organization's membership.
The AFS is working to establish relationships with
other groups that foster diversity, such as the
Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, international
fisheries organizations, and diversity initiatives
of other professional societies. Diversity builds
on itself. The climate becomes more welcoming when
individuals see others like them represented in
The AFS promotes integration of women in the fisheries
profession through several targeted activities of
the Equal Opportunities Section and other units.
The J. Frances Allen Scholarship has been presented
annually since 1986 to a female doctoral student
who is studying any aspect of fisheries science.
This award provides these students with a monetary
gift of $2,500 and recognition for their early professional
development. Many of these individuals have gone
on to serve the Society and profession in various
leadership capacities. Agencies, private donors,
and sections of the Society contribute to several
travel scholarships that provide funding for attendance
at regional and national meetings by students who
are women or from underrepresented ethnic groups.
Mentors are paired with these students at the annual
conference to assist them in meeting other professionals
and making the most of a conference experience.
The AFS has recently developed a new program to
attract underrepresented segments of the population
into careers in fisheries at critical stages when
youth are making career choices. Most efforts to
attract women and minorities have focused on undergraduate
university students and have had limited success
(Fritz 2000). Educators suggest that more emphasis
must be placed on attracting students before they
enter college. Next summer, the AFS plans on placing
the first group of high school students from minority
groups in agency internships through the Junior
Fisheries Biologist Program, supported by the Robert
F. Hutton Fund. The program will provide students
with a professional mentor and a summer-long, hands-on
experience in fisheries science in either a marine
or freshwater setting.
Like society as a whole, the AFS has found that
barriers related to gender might be much more tractable
than dealing with the multiple issues related to
other aspects of social diversity. Women are easily
identifiable for the purposes of offering support.
Other aspects of social diversity may rely on self-identification
with less obvious groups and may be more variable
in their experiences. The proportion of women in
the fisheries profession has historically and clearly
been significantly lower than the ratio of women
in the general population. Stereotypes related to
women working in the fisheries professions are perhaps
more apparent and easier to address than barriers
related to other aspects of social diversity.
AFS is taking action to become more skilled at identifying
and addressing challenges related to other aspects
of diversity. The Equal Opportunities Section is
implementing a survey to identify barriers to career
development for women and minorities who are in
the fisheries profession. Issues addressed by the
survey include aspects such as interruptions in
a career to care for family members; mentoring relationships
with professors and peers; discrimination by colleagues
or clients; opportunities for promotion; and role
of the professional society in career development.
These results should provide more specific information
regarding the issues that women and minorities face
in achieving their professional goals without sacrificing
their personal or cultural values.
As the AFS develops experience with attracting and
recruiting women and minorities, historical and
nontraditional allies in the quest for diversity
will have to continue to work together to achieve
greater understanding and better representation
in the fisheries profession. As Alfred G. Fischer
stated in the Forward to Privileged Hands: A Scientific
Life, "Each scientist brings a somewhat different
perspective to any problem, of course, conditioned
by his or her own genetics and experience, and that
is what keeps science lively and moving." Members
of the fisheries profession and their clients will
benefit greatly from this rich potential through
continued creative efforts to attract and retain
a diverse professional corps.
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White, G.M. 2000. Personal challenges, professional
diversity: Faces of fisheries and aquatic sciences.
Symposium poster. Diverse Society, Diverse Reflections?:
A Visual Tour of Ethnic, Racial, Gender, and Physical
Diversity in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 130th
Annual conference of the American Fisheries Society,
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Gwen White is the Fisheries Program Specialist for
the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and
currently serves as the president of the AFS Equal
Opportunities Section. Prior to joining the IDNR,
she was a Peace Corps Aquaculture volunteer in Honduras.
© Reprinted with permission from Women in Natural