You may have noticed people using the word ‘fishers’ to mean ‘fishermen’. The term ‘fishers’ is an archaic English word that fell out of use. This history is explained by Branch and Kleiber (2017) but unfortunately, they do not recommend which word to use. The increased use of the word fishers in scientific literature is an attempt to be gender-neutral but fails on several grounds.

First, nobody asked the men and women who fish what they think, and they do not like it. Some women fishermen found the term offensive because it suggested they were not doing the same job as men.

‘Fishers’ are to fishing what ‘peasants’ are to farming. Try calling farmers peasants and see how that goes down. Resurrecting a word from biblical times without consulting the people affected seems unwise.

Second, a fisher is an American mustelid, so the word is already in good modern use.

Perhaps the lesson is let us not start calling communities of people names without consulting with them. We do not need to neutralise every word. Men are midwives. Chairman is often used for men and women. To invent neutral words is often an indication that the person doing the job is not the traditional sex, which has the opposite effect of making it neutral. People who do the same work can be called the same name, it applies to the job, not the person. Fishermen are both men and women.

I thank Dick Bates for telling me that, following some discussions he had participated in, that the most recent Common Fisheries Policy basic regulation (1380/2013) reverted back to the use of ‘fishermen’ from the term ‘fishers’ used in the Regulation ten years earlier.

Reference

Branch, T.A. and Kleiber, D., 2017. Should we call them fishers or fishermen?. Fish and Fisheries 18 (1), 114-127.

 

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