Young women seafarers grateful for opportunities
19 year olds, Vaseva and Joana, walk up to meet the team, all decked in their rubber overalls and gum boots. Both look tired but greet us with friendly Bula smiles, which automatically sets the tone for friendly introductions and interviews.
The team instantly sense that these two young women are determined and driven to succeed in an industry that is male dominated, qualities needed to make it in this industry.
Vaseva Nailaba Dale has come a long way from her village of Nailawa in the Ra Province, the north western side of Viti Levu. Around this time last year, she was still a student at Saint Francis College preparing to sit her national tertiary entrance examinations.
“Never in my mind would I have thought of joining the maritime industry. I was supposed to go to USP and that didn’t happen and a relative of mine told me about the scholarships offered for the Deck Hand Fishing and Offshore Skipper programmes at FMA, so I applied, got accepted, went through the first stage of one month theory classes and now I am here serving my practical,” a proud Vaseva highlighted.
Vaseva is the second youngest and only girl of four siblings, who is working towards establishing a career in the maritime industry, one that she is not taking for granted.
“It’s from my theory classes, that I started to gain interest in the offshore industry and I remember I couldn’t wait to start with my practical. Since then I have been here at Fiji Fish. I have been enjoying learning and trying to build a career in this industry. I want to be a Captain someday and I know it will take a lot of hard work,” added a determined looking Vaseva.
The two women are part of a group of 46 trainees who were awarded tuition-only scholarships this year through the WWF project on Developing Sustainable and Responsible Tuna Longline Fisheries in Fiji, 21 of whom are females.
An aim of the project is to reduce bycatch in the tuna longline fishery. The trainees are enrolled in the Deckhand Fishing, and Offshore Fishing Skipper programmes offered at the Fiji Maritime Academy (FMA) where are unit covering Bycatch Mitigation have been introduced for the first time.
The project is funded by the government of New Zealand and coordinated by WWF New Zealand. The implementing partners are the Ministry of Fisheries, Fiji Fishing Industry Association, the FMA, and WWF Pacific who also administers the project grant.
At Fiji Fish, Vaseva is an assistant boatswain (bosun) or senior deck crewman, a first for a female to hold such a rank in the company.
For Vaseva, being a female seafarer and an assistant boatswain has its fair share of challenges.
“My first fishing trip was the toughest and I was home sick as well. As assistant boatswain, I not only assist with the setting of the lines and reeling in the catch, but I also have to check for the quality of fish, the icing of the fish and other roles. I had faced a lot of challenges when I took the new position. Challenges that required for me to lead from the front. I had to ensure that I would do my tasks as assistant boatswain well and I managed to do so and in doing so I was able to gain the respect of my crew. It is tough being a seafarer but one that I am enjoying as well,” Vaseva highlighted.
As for the assistant boatswain, she has set her sights on going far in this industry.
“I urge other females out there who have no plans set in stone and are looking for an opportunity, to have a go at this industry. If I can do it, they can do it too. My family is my inspiration. I want to be the first female (longline fishing vessel) captain in Fiji and for my province of Ra. It takes commitment and strength to succeed.”
“Next year in February, I have to go back to take the next course after my 12 months attachment as per the requirement and in doing so, I want to thank the sponsors of the scholarships, the New Zealand Government as I wouldn’t have this opportunity without them and the support from WWF and FMA,” Vaseva added.
For Joana Kasani, neither did she imagine she would board any vessel, let alone fishing vessel, this time last year as well.
The Deck Hand Fishing student who hails from Navaga village on Koro Island had plans for her future that didn’t involve joining the maritime profession.
“Nursing school was the plan but I couldn’t get a scholarship to do so. So this opportunity came up and I thought I would give it a try. Prior to that, I have never been on any type of vessel and have never gone out fishing. So it was me stepping out of my comfort zone and I can remember my family were a bit concerned for me,” revealed the former Lelean Memorial School alumni.
And since taking the leap of faith and currently serving her practical apprenticeship as a deck hand with over ten fishing trips to date, there is no turning back for the lanky slim built deck hand apprentice.
“It’s a bit different what we learnt for our theory training at FMA to being on board. It took me one whole week to get use to going out to sea and getting used to the conditions. It’s tough this industry but we all have to start from somewhere. I plan to save enough money to cross credit onto the Offshore Skipper Programme as one day I would also like to be a captain.”
“I am also grateful for the New Zealand Government-funded scholarship that has enabled me to get a trade qualification and hopefully to eventually secure full time employment. My advice to females who would like to take up this profession, is that you have to be tough in this profession,” added Kasani.
A bycatch component on Protected Species Bycatch Mitigation for the Fiji Offshore Fisheries was developed and offered for the first time in 2019 and built into the Deck Hand Fishing and Offshore Fishing Skipper courses to help strengthen theoretical knowledge of maritime seafarers in the offshore fishing sector and to reduce overall bycatch associated longline fishing.