Paper

Navigating the Waters of Precarity: Labour Dynamics and Masculinities in Vietnam’s Offshore Fisheries

Georgina Alonso, PhD Candidate, University of Ottawa

Panel

Work at Sea: Regional and Global Perspective on Southeast Asian Migrant Workers in Industrial Fishing - Recruitment, Migration, Reproduction

Abstract

This research examines compounding challenges faced by Vietnamese offshore fishers amid ecological decline and ongoing fisheries reforms in Vietnam, and examines the ways in which fishers navigate these challenges and adapt to change. As a dangerous, environmentally dependant job where pay is tied to inconsistent catch amounts and where fishers become subject to the legal authority of multiple states as they move through international waters, fishing is precarious work. Furthermore, the gendered division of labour results in a work environment that idealizes and enforces certain masculine norms. Through qualitative interviews and observation, this research illuminates the perspectives of workers, captains, and boat owners in southern Vietnam to uncover the ways in which precarity shapes the lives of those involved in offshore fishing. In examining both the material and social aspects of fish work, including several constraints and divisions, the research demonstrates that in addition to financial incentives, efforts to maintain an adequate labour force also rely on notions of masculinity. The research further finds that the declining ability to make a decent livelihood from offshore fishing results in perverse incentives on the part of fishers, captains and boat owners. I argue that the framing in international media of Vietnamese fishers as drivers of overfishing in the region misses the larger context of ecological decline and squeezed livelihoods. Rather, the root cause of precarity among offshore fishers is the same as that which is driving the overexploitation of fish: capitalist growth.

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