WILMINGTON, N.C. — Two issues in the commercial fishing industry are in the spotlight: sustainable fishing and getting more women into the industry.
Right now, studies report women only make up nearly 9% of commercial fishing in the US. That is why one woman fisherman is trying to lead by example by basing her business on sustainable fishing.
“I prefer the soul connection to Mother Nature and learning about what she provides naturally,” said Ana Shellem, the owner of Shell’em Seafood Company. “I just love finding the beautiful shellfish that she’s already created out here in the wild.”
The marsh in Wilmington, North Carolina, is home to Shellem. She’s out here every week, harvesting shellfish.
“I harvest clams, oysters, mussels, and snow crabs mostly,” Shellem said. “I admire people who farm but I can’t farm 'cause I would lose the connection with Mother Nature. If I farmed, I would be in control and she wouldn’t, and with me, everything is within her control, always. And I love that, and it’s taught me a lot about myself and it’s taught me how to chill out.”
Shellem is a one-woman fishery, primarily dedicated to sustainable fishing and providing for small local restaurants in her area. Only filling the exact amount that her 10 restaurants ordered.
She is a fisher, businesses woman and delivery driver, while also doing her business in a conservationist way. For the last six years, Shellem has been thriving in what is mostly known as a male-dominated industry.
“There’s a beautiful side of femininity that I have never been able to conquer; it’s been one of my goals to be more feminine in this male-dominated work,” Shellem said. “Being a female in this industry is challenging, but it’s more rewarding than it is challenging. I think women are a lot smarter. We don’t want the basics we want the knowledge, and I want to elevate that.”
The National Oceanic Atmospherics Administration says women play a vital but undervalued role in commercial fishing. Studies show that women only make up only about 9% of commercial fishermen in the U.S. as of 2021. Though the numbers are higher around the world.
Looking at the Global Industry, Canadian researchers found women appear to be more mindful of resources when harvesting and are less likely to overfish, and instead fish for what they need.
“You just have to learn that’s what you’re dealing with today and tell the chefs that Mother Nature just isn’t giving it to you and that’s the way we should be doing everything,” Shellem said. “It would be very beneficial. I don’t hide anything. I literally put everything out there. I feel like that’s the best way because if you’re not honest to begin with or if you do any kind of shady practice, it’s going to taint your reputation or accountability.”
Shellem hopes to inspire more women like her along the country’s coastal region to help sustain the environment that provides for her and so many others who rely on fishermen.