Posted inOur originals / Kiribati

“Ladies of the Line”: Kiribati’s All-Woman Team Policing Fish Exports

Joana Rabaua, a senior verification officer for Kiribati’s fisheries authority, doesn’t mince words.

“My job is to protect our reputation,” she states, a woman of small stature but with a big responsibility.

Rabaua is one of six women forming the backbone of Kiribati’s fish export industry, now that this tiny Pacific Island nation has become the latest to enter the European Union market.

The pressure is relentless.

Days stretch into a blur of inspections – processing facilities, hulking fishing vessels docked at port.

“Six inspections a day is the goal,” Rabaua explains.

Every shipment, every fish, must meet rigorous EU quality standards. One misstep could jeopardise Kiribati’s hard-won access.

Rabaua’s route to being a verification officer was unconventional. Starting in coastal fisheries, she found her calling in the regulatory sphere.

“Sometimes we board fishing vessels namely Purse Seiners staffed entirely by men,” she recounts. Work can be very challenging- her team has at times wrestled frozen fish samples from cavernous holds using industrial tools. “Those blocks are rock-solid – it can take hours to try and get fish samples,” she says with a wry smile.

Yet, it’s the team’s unique dynamic that provides their strength.

“Being all women works in our favor,” Rabaua reflects. “We have an understanding. That’s vital when the clock is ticking, and you’re having tough talks with exporters.”

Downsized from a staff of ten to six, the “Ladies of the Line” – a nickname they might playfully adopt – have taken the increased burden in stride. Rabaua credits training by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), such as the Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point (HACCP) program funded by the EU and the Government of Sweden through the Pacific European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) Programme , for bolstering their expertise. “That training was very beneficial. I feel empowered to make on-the-spot calls…and that confidence flows back to the team.”

Joanna Rabaua embodies the changing face of the Pacific fisheries sector.

Her determination, and that of her colleagues, isn’t just about Kiribati’s bottom line – it’s about proving that women can excel in this traditionally male-dominated arena.

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