Sweat And Sacrifice Propel Somali Women In Puntland Into Male Dominated Fishing Business

After years of struggle and taking on menial jobs for survival, Asho Abdikarin Hersi is now the owner of a thriving fish and seafood company in the northeastern coastal town of Eyl.

Asha, who grew up in a pastoralist family in the rural area, moved to Eylin 1999 to support the livelihood of the family back home. Her struggles, she believes, moulded her and prepared her for the bold step of venturing into fishing.

Since then, despite the collapse of her marriage as a result of immense challenges and hardship, she has become a business success, an employer, and a role model for other women: “I used to sell tea and bread at the coast, and when the fishermen had no money they used to give me lobster in exchange for food and I would then sell the fish,” she said, describing the menial jobs she endured on her way into the business.

Asha owns and runs Libin fishing company, which she set up with a small investment in 2006: “I got the money from selling 12kg of frozen lobster! At first, I ventured into a small business, before I started dealing in lobsters on a bigger scale,” said the mother of three.

Fishing is a male-dominated industry in the region and many people doubted that Asho could make it: “When I began this business, people used to say that I do not have the capacity to cope with this trade, but I managed and overcame all the challenges,” she told Radio Ergo’s local reporter.

She owns fishing boats, employing the crews to operate the boats, and brings in a catch of around 100 kg of lobster and fish in a day. Most of the seafood is sold to various customers in Garowe and other districts of Puntland. Excess fish is frozen for sale later.

Some of the lobster is on the menu at the hotel Asha owns – the largest hotel in Eyl, run by a women-only workforce. The hotel serves local tourists from other parts of Puntland and Somalis visiting from the diaspora. Ashopays school fees for her own children as well as five relatives.

“I am the sole breadwinner; I pay for the monthly food needs of my family and that of my parents together with school fees for eight children,” she said proudly. Asho is one of just six women who have their own fishing companies in Puntland and are making their mark.

Maryan Ahmed Aw-Muse, 48, has been trading in lobster since 2013. Maryan has her own fishing boat and is also an employer. She is concerned about the risks involved in the business: “Relying on fishing is risky but we have no alternative, sometimes boats are attacked by foreign trawlers and ships leading to loss of lives and injuries,” she said.

“I remember there was a time I bought a thousand dollar net meant for catching sharks but it was destroyed by foreign fishing vessels.” Maryan is skilled in fishing herself and joins two fishermen she hires out at sea: “We have to supply our market, so it needs sacrifice and it is also risky. So sometimes I like to be the one to experience the risks at first hand,” she said.