Business As Usual: Fishing for a Living

Few women in North Carolina set their sights on fishing for a living.

Current statistics show only 5.5 percent of the 5,449 commercial fishing license holders in the state are women. That rate varied little over the past decade, according to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. Anecdotal evidence also indicates that female deck hands, much less captains, are rare.

Women working in commercial fishing, however, see few obstacles unique to their gender. They say they face the same challenges as their male counterparts — long hours, hard work, rough seas, mechanical problems and fluctuating catches.

“Commercial fishing is punishing and dangerous work, and many ‘greenhorns’ — men or women — quit after the first trip,” notes Sara Mirabilio,  a North Carolina Sea Grant fisheries specialist.

“But if a woman proves herself not weak of spirit and a quick learner, she will be accepted. I don’t think there’s gender inequality.”

Yet women’s varied roles may not be as visible. Along the North Carolina coast and beyond, women have a tradition of working in the commercial fishing industry — hanging nets, picking crabs, shucking scallops, building pots, selling fish, attending fishery management meetings, and working nets and lines.

“Fishing is often seen as a male activity, but the paid and unpaid labor of women that goes toward sustaining fisheries and fishing communities often is not recognized,” Mirabilio adds.

Some women working in the industry come from generations of fishing families, while others are newcomers. Take some time to meet a few who work the waters for a living.


Shannon Dunn skippers her family’s 32-foot fishing boat from a creek-side berth in Hatteras Village to offshore fishing grounds in search of Spanish mackerel, king mackerel and other fish.

Read the rest of the story in Coastwatch, a NC Sea Grant publication.