Women In Commercial Fishing Say Harassment Is Part Of The Job Women make up roughly 15% of Alaska's commercial fishing industry, and sexual harassment is part of the job. Being on a boat for weeks at a time makes harassment hard to escape.
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'Get Off The Boat' — Women In Commercial Fishing Industry Fight Sexual Harassment

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'Get Off The Boat' — Women In Commercial Fishing Industry Fight Sexual Harassment

'Get Off The Boat' — Women In Commercial Fishing Industry Fight Sexual Harassment

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Many female fishermen say that sexual harassment is part of the job. Women make up roughly 15% of Alaska's commercial fishing industry, and they say that being on a boat for weeks or months at a time makes harassment hard to escape. But now there's a push to make the seas safer. From member station KBBI in Homer, Alaska, Renee Gross reports. And a note - this story contains the description of an attempted sexual assault.

RENEE GROSS, BYLINE: Robin McAllister is sitting on a couch in her living room in Homer when her younger friend, Jude Huerta, walks through the door.

ROBIN MCALLISTER: Hey, honey.

GROSS: Huerta's 19 years old and wants to commercial fish for the first time this year. McAllister fished years ago and, recently, the friends have been talking about safety.

JUDE HUERTA: It's really sad that that has to be said, but it's important to know.

MCALLISTER: It's better to say it ahead of time than regret it later.

GROSS: McAllister is speaking from experience. When she fished in the '70s and '80s, at times she was the only woman on the boat. Once, she says, she was stuck on a boat with a captain who was constantly drinking. She says he assaulted her in her room, and she had to fight him off.

MCALLISTER: I mean, physically grappling and trying to get through and get out and get away. Well, I wasn't raped, but that was only because I got out.

GROSS: The next day, she hopped onto another boat to get away. Thirty years later, she now works as a therapist. Her clearest advice...

MCALLISTER: You can hop a tender when you're done delivering fish. If things have gotten bad, don't negotiate with them that you'll be dropped later. Get off the boat.

GROSS: The Alaska State Commission for Human Rights takes complaints about sexual harassment and discrimination but says it doesn't receive a larger number from the fishing industry specifically. The difference is that on a boat, you're stuck with your co-workers for long periods of time.

ELMA BURNHAM: My name's Elma Burnham, and I am founder of Strength of the Tides.

GROSS: Strength of the Tides is a grassroots movement asking fishermen boat captains and others to sign a pledge demanding zero tolerance for sexual harassment and assault. Burnham herself fishes commercially in Alaska, and she started the organization in 2017.

BURNHAM: So I first put the pledge online and sent it out to people I'd worked with in the past. And then it got picked up more quickly than I expected.

GROSS: Roughly, 300 people have signed it. She gets the word out by holding networking nights, hosting education events and attending conferences. Burnham publishes online the list of those who have signed it, and she hopes women will use the list to find jobs on boats that take harassment seriously.

BURNHAM: It's basically - another way to look at it is an anti-harassment policy for this group of people.

MALCOLM MILNE: The one thing I don't approve of is more paperwork necessarily. I have plenty to do as it is.

GROSS: Malcolm Milne owns a fishing boat and manages a crew of four. He's also president of the North Pacific Fisheries Association. He doesn't have a formal harassment policy because he says he's not that official about things. But he says he talks to his crew about the problem.

MILNE: People recognize that it does happen in circumstances, but in the smaller family boats that I am associated with, I think people are just - don't have any tolerance for it, so it's not really an issue I would say.

GROSS: Back in McAllister's house in Homer, she says more needs to be done to tackle the issue on both big and small boats.

MCALLISTER: The truth is I really like the Wild West of the ocean just the way it is and the fleets just the way they are. But people should be sexually safe.

GROSS: She says there needs to be just enough in place for a safety net. For NPR News, I'm Renee Gross in Homer, Alaska.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIKTOR KRAUSS AND MAEVE GILCHRIST'S "FARIKA")

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