Elma Burnham started the website "Strength of the Tides" to help women find safe boats to fish on and keep people accountable for making the fishing industry a better place for women to work.
A little over a year ago, the project “Strength of the Tides” launched a website with a mission to help women working in fisheries find safe places to work. You may have spotted the tees and tank tops around the boatyard—black with the simple message: “The strength of the tides is hers also.”
It is no secret that fishing is a male-dominated industry. But increasingly, women are becoming skippers, joining crews, and working on tenders.
Elma Burnham is one among them, and she wanted to make sure there was an organization looking out for them.
She said, “'Strength of the Tides' is a community organization to empower women who work on the water.”
For seven years, Burnham has been coming to Bristol Bay in the summer to fish for sockeye. This year she was based in Pilot Point. She is the main person behind “Strength of the Tides,” which she founded a little over a year ago.
The organization uses Instagram to profile women involved in fisheries. It also hosts gatherings to build community and offers a pledge for people to sign to hold them accountable for how women are treated on the water.
Burnham said the pledge is really the heart of the organization’s mission.
“I basically published this pledge that asked people who work in the industry to declare and sign on that they will respect women.” She continued, “There is a list of different criteria of what that means while in this unique workplace we are in.”
Everyone who signs the agreement also can list the vessel they are on and where they fish. It is posted on the website, and Burnham said this is a helpful resource for women trying to get on a boat because they can see if the skipper has signed the pledge. So far over 200 people have signed.
Names are also posted to keep people accountable for agreeing to work towards a fishing industry free of sexual harassment, assault and sexism.
Burnham decided to write the pledge after Donald Trump was elected president, despite accusations of sexual harassment.
She asked, "If that’s the standard where our presidency is at, then what’s the standard for this industry that’s up in the corner of the U.S. that folks don’t really know about?”
People often wonder if Burnham started ‘Strength of the Tides’ because of a specific trauma. She says it was not a personal experience that inspired her, explaining that improving working conditions for women who fish goes beyond particular grievances.
“Why wouldn’t we build community and support each other? Do we need a reason to do that? Like do we need this scary reason to support women? I don’t think we need one,” said Burnham.
In addition to the online pledge, Strength of the Tides has sold shirts with their message and distributed stencils to mark boats who have signed the agreement.
Burnham would like to start doing more educational workshops and is open to ideas. The pledge and more information can be found at strengthofthetides.org.
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