What’s in a name? A fishy conundrum


We like a copy conundrum at Sherlock.

We were recently asked to advise on whether ‘fisherman’ / ‘fishermen’ are acceptable terms (on the face of it, they’re arguably gender-specific to men).

Some brands continue to use ‘fishermen’. For example, in July, Morrisons – which owns its own fishing boat – ran a Facebook campaign in support of ‘British fishermen’.

The UK’s media outlets use various gender-neutral alternatives. For example, ‘fisher / fishers’ (favoured by The Guardian and Observer) and ‘fisherpeople’ (used by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last November). However, neither of these, nor others (such as ‘fisherfolk’) have caught on. Meanwhile, The Grocer’s, use of ‘female fisherman’ doesn’t solve the need for a one-word, collective term.

In the absence of a general consensus, we sought the opinion of women industry professionals themselves as the obvious – and most respectful – thing to do.

Surprisingly, it’s not something that’s always been done. “The crux of the matter regarding use of the term is that women who commercially fish have not been asked what they wish to be called as a collective,” says Beshlie Pool, co-director of UK Women In Fisheries (UKWIF), a mutual support group for women who work in UK fisheries. Pool is also Executive Officer of South Devon & Channel Shellfishermen.

For some women, being referred to as a ‘fisherman’ is a point of pride as it signifies they’re able to do the same work as men, adds Pool. Rather than getting caught up on vocabulary, research indicates it’s more important that women feel part of the industry. “Some women may prefer to have a gender-neutral term applied to their work, but we are yet to meet any who object to being called a fisherman.” If there is a requirement to detail gender, for example, when discussing the needs of women on boats, UKWIF uses ‘female fisherman’.

Sue Lucas, director of fish retailer Passionate About Fish, deals with both men and women who fish commercially. Whilst she’ll often write “fishermen and women” in her blog, she doesn’t do so to be intentionally PC, “…rather because as a female fishmonger I do like to recognise that both sexes are out on the water.” She sees ‘fisherman’ / ‘fishermen’ as generic terms and personally doesn’t see a need for alternatives. “I do know a couple of commercial female skippers and they don’t have an issue referring to themselves as ‘fishermen’.

Currently, ‘fisherman’ / ‘fishermen’ feel the most suitable terms to use where space is limited. Language is, however, fluid and ever changing, so this could change in future.

Ahead of that, we’d like to offer up ‘fishcatcher’ as a potential alternative, just like ‘firefighter’ is a modern alternative to the more traditional term, ‘fireman’.

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