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Two years ago we spoke to the fisher Elise Kristin Kuntze, whose was dreaming of becoming a chief officer. Now that dream has been fulfilled.
Kuntze is not a person to just drift with the current; on the contrary, she swims straight into it. Since last we spoke to her, she has moved from the deck to the bridge – by becoming the first female chief officer in the history of Lerøy Havfisk AS. Now she sits at the helm navigating the trawler Doggi, which is named after a mountain in northern Norway. She is also the safety officer with responsibility for ensuring the safety of her colleagues, whom she refers to as the “boys on deck”.
Her job title styrmann (literally “steer man”) has generated some controversy because it is not gender neutral, but that does not bother her.
– I think it is really cool to be a woman in a male-dominated industry, so I wear that title as a badge of honour.
Loves her dream job
Kuntze really enjoys her new workplace. The days are varied, and she is able to do what she loves most – spend time out at sea hunting for fish. There is nothing like the adrenaline rush when they get a big catch.
– Then I feel like I’m bubbling with excitement.
Nevertheless, there are moments when she longs to do more physical work outside the bridge, particularly when the water is a like a mirror and the sun is beating down from a cloudless sky. When Kuntze started training to become a chief officer, it took her long time to get used to the idea of sitting still in a chair. She wondered whether this was what she really wanted to do.
– But not using your body as much as you do as a fisher turned out to be more rewarding than I had originally imagined. You’re constantly being challenged mentally, as you’re always having to plan where to sail and work out where the best fishing sites are.
“The fishing industry is a man’s world”
Although Kuntze is the only woman working on the boat, the excellent working environment means she enjoys her workdays. She has a good relationship with her male colleagues, who support and encourage her.
– Fishers are straightforward people who are solution-oriented and cooperative. We solve challenges together; everyone helps out and there is a low threshold for asking for assistance.
Nevertheless, it was a new experience for her colleagues to have a woman navigating the boat.
– At first, I think my colleagues found it a bit weird that a woman was going to be their boss, but it has gone really well and now they accept it.
As one of the few female chief officers in Norway, and the first one at Havfisk, there is no getting around the fact that Kuntze occasionally faces stereotypes and prejudices.
– Often it is the older generation that is sceptical, as well as people on land who don’t know the fishing industry. I have received comments like ‘women should stay at home, cook, clean and look after the children’ and ‘the fishing industry is a man’s world.
Kuntze does not let those kinds of comments get her down. She has noticed a positive change in those sorts of attitudes, particularly amongst the younger generation. She believes that is because they have grown up believing that women and men can perfectly well work together.
Not for everyone
When winter draws in, there are no more sunny, pleasant days on Doggi. The raging storms and the wet, cold weather put your mental fortitude to the test. Dealing with those challenges becomes part of your day-to-day work. However high the waves, and however strong the wind, Elise has never felt afraid on board the trawler.
– Being a fisher is about coping with these challenges, whether you are a man or a woman. You have to be strong and in good physical shape, as well as cheerful and cooperative.
Summing up, Kuntze stresses how much she enjoys working in the shipping and fishing industry, and she confirms that she has never once regretted her decision. Although she has more than enough to get her teeth into, her future goal is to navigate an even bigger boat, and perhaps even become a captain one day.
* This article is one of a series of pen portraits of employees throughout Lerøy’s value chain. Lerøy’s values are openness, honesty, responsibility and creativity, and we strive hard to be a discrimination-free workplace.