Women In The Seafood Industry was a project I originally started back in 2018 for Seafish UK. Whilst the seafood industry from the outside is male dominated, Seafish tasked me with showing the wide range of posts occupied by women. When you ask people about the seafood industry thoughts usually drift to stormy seas and men out working the boats. This project aimed to show the less visible, but equally crucial roles women play within the seafood industry both on and away from the “frontline”.
Behind the workers who operate the boats there is a small army of women supporting the industry in various ways. Much like airline pilots, doctors or race car drivers there is often a mass of people in the background supporting these more visible roles. Seafish UK got in touch with an idea about delving into some of these less well known roles and exploring the women who work in them.
Much like any project the hardest thing to do is get started. I kicked the project off by visiting Pauline Kerr in St. Georges Market Belfast. Pauline works on the S&P Milligan fish stand down at the back of the market. Pauline doesn’t have industry history as such but transitioned into selling fish by helping out a friend. Paulines shoot was tricky due to the organised chaos that is St. Georges Market. The area she worked in was far from ideal for photos. Light from the glass roof was causing highlight chaos. Thankfully to RAW picture files, I was able to control the extreme highlights during the editing process.
The majority of the women and industries represented in this project were situated outside of Belfast. Thankfully my 12 plus years experience of setting up shoots on site in unusual places would come into play here.
Tracy Brennan is a Quality Manager at Rooney Fish in Kilkeel. She specialises in controlling and improving the quality of shellfish. Due to the delicate nature of this highly perishable raw material her role is vital in maintaining standards. Women like Tracy are helping companies in Ireland and the UK lead the way in being the most environmentally informed organisations in the seafood industry. This shoot was one of the quickest due to limited on site time. Tracy recommended a small back office area which was used for testing shellfish samples. Whilst the office was a bit darker than I would’ve liked, the equipment in the background would add character to the final image.
After I finished working with Tracy she recommended I visit the factory floor to photograph one of the female workers in the packing area. I was introduced to Halime who’d been with Rooney Fish since 2015. Seafood processing has become increasingly mechanised over the years. Despite this advance in technology, human hands are still required to operate the machinery and maintain food standards. Halime’s photo was shot quickly as the floor was very busy. One softbox just to the right of the camera would have to suffice.
Staying in the processing side of the industry, Rosemary Johnston from Kilkeel Seafoods was my next subject. This shoot would offer a little more flexibility in terms of backgrounds as I was able to take photos on the factory floor with fewer people moving around. Rosemary works at a level in the seafood industry often dominated by men, particularly at leadership level. Despite the male dominance, Rosemary has thrived in her post bringing years of experience to her role and the staff she supports. For Rosemary’s photo I was able to set up a softbox and another light to the rear. This would allow me to illuminate her as well as the machine that she was standing in front of.
Staying with Kilkeel seafoods, Rosemary introduced me to sisters Lorraine, Heather and Diane. These ladies worked down on the main floor as off-shell processors. What made these three women special was the combined 91 years of co-working. Initially the ladies were a little hesitant about having their photos taken. My task wasn’t made any easier as their work colleagues stood just out of shot! After a quick chat about what the photo would look like and how they’d be in it together they happily obliged. I was super happy they agreed as the image of the three of them together is certainly unique.
After I finished working with the three sisters, Rosemary told me about Geraldine. Since Geraldine left school at 16 she amassed an amazing 43 years in the seafood industry. Surely there could be no better person to represent women in the seafood industry? Geraldine currently holds the role of supervising assistant on an off-shell machine at Kilkeel Seafoods. Geraldine was quite nervous about having her photo taken. With her work colleagues heading to the canteen the floor turned quiet. I worked quickly and took advantage of the quiet factory floor.. The lack of faces watching us helped her nerves and I got exactly what I needed.
My final shoot in Kilkeel would be with Ingrid and Lesley from the Fishermen’s Mission. These ladies through the Mission provide emergency support alongside practical, financial, spiritual and emotional care to all fishermen, active or retired and their families. Ingrid and Lesley’s shoot was more relaxed compared to some of the other shoots. We started in their offices but quickly moved to the surroundings of vacant fish halls. Working outside gave me a better choice of backgrounds in which to place them. I settled on the image below with the harbour in the background. Considering the support they give to those that sail these vessels the image seemed appropriate
Moving away from Kilkeel I headed North to Bangor to meet Emma Lindsay. A DAERA Fisheries Officer, Emma has worked in the seafoodIndustry for over 8 years. Her role involves inspecting fish imports and exports ensuring health standards are met and certified. Another role of her job includes the inspection of all Northern Irish finfish farms to ensure fish are healthy and comply with current licensing conditions. Emma’s shoot was unique for this project as it was the only set of images captured on water. The boat on which Emma stood wais a DAERA vessel used for completing inspections of fisheries and other vessels. As I wasn’t crew qualified all the images I shot had to be taken whilst the boat was moored at Bangor marina. I vividly remember this shoot for how unseasonably warm and bright it was. I was constantly trying to find suitable places to shoot from in shadow whilst not falling overboard!
Bringing things back to Belfast, my next stop on the project tour was at Fish City to visit Grainne Lavery. Grainne who owns Fish City with her husband John, has been heading up the front of house team at this award-winning Seafood restaurant who specialise in fantastic fish and chips for over two years.. After talking with Grainne for just a short period of time it quickly became obvious she was on a mission to encourage customers to eat more seafish. Aside from her front of house duties she also runs the Fish City Kids Club – a free initiative offered to primary school children encouraging them to eat seafood as well as inform them on health benefits. Grainne’s flair for interior design would come through massively in the photos. She was responsible for the restaurants maritime theme and art work displayed throughout. The interior of the restaurant was an excellent location for a photoshoot. Having the kitchen close by meant that we could also have some seafish in the photos as well.
Like all projects, there has to be an end. Ewing’s fishmongers, based on the Shankill Road Belfast has been in business since 1911. Betty Beck has worked in the seafood industry her entire adult life. Initially helping her mother who managed one of Ewing’s five fish shops, Betty joined the business straight after finishing school. When I visited Betty she was in the finishing room packing smoked salmon getting it ready for sale in the front of the shop.
Donna has worked for Ewings for over 20 years. During my visit, she was selling the salmon my previous subject, Betty had just packed. Speaking with Donna, I learned that the smoked salmon industry is booming in Northern Ireland. Loved by Michelin starred chefs and members of the public alike, Ewing’s smoked salmon is a now famous delicacy.
I would like to take a moment to thank all of the ladies involved in this project. I fully appreciate almost nobody likes having their photos taken, especially in front of their friends and work colleagues. I tip my hat to all those involved and applaud your bravery in being involved in this project.
For more information on “Northern Ireland Women in Seafood” make sure to follow this link over to the main Seafish UK website.