International Women's Day: Insight from a female seafood hero

Wed 6th March 2019
Women In Seafood

1. What is it like as a female in the seafood industry?

Read what CJ Jackson 'the female face of seafood' has to say about the Seafood industry on International Women's Day.

I have been based at Billingsgate now for nearly 14 years and initially it was a challenge to be accepted into a close knit community and being a female didn’t help that. There are very few females at the market, especially working on the trading floor. I had to prove that I knew what I was talking about and I was careful to never try to bluff as people can see right through it! It is absolutely okay to admit you don’t know everything because no one does. Once the lines were drawn everything began to slot into place.  

I come from a training and writing background and have travelled, worked and fished in many countries around the globe. I have picked up so much information and seen many things first hand during the last 35 years in the food industry as I am naturally very inquisitive.

2. What changes have you seen with regards to gender and the industry?

I am seeing more and more female fishmongers coming into the industry both as successful business women in their own right and counter staff at some of the large retailers. I also am beginning to see a ready acceptance in the work place for all genders and it is an exciting time for the industry.

3. What advice would you give young women who are thinking about a career in the industry?

This job isn’t for the faint hearted!  But I do believe that it offers an excellent opportunity to make your mark in an industry that is developing and changing and tends to be seen as a male dominated career but women are joining. There is so much to learn and even after 35 years working with food and I am still learning new things every day even though I am only a few years off retirement. 

I would encourage both genders to learn good practices: knife skills, understand fishing methods, gain an understanding about sustainability and importantly how to encourage people to eat and enjoy more of this amazing protein source.  

4. What is your favourite thing about the industry?

That you never stop learning and I find so many people willing to share their knowledge of this amazing industry.  I spent a day with a very well-known and respected fisherman recently and he was so excited to learn a new way to cook his seafood. One of his crew taught him and he embraced the knowledge and shared it with everyone else.

5. What do you think could be done to encourage more women to think about a career in seafood?

There needs to continue to be good education in school as to where all our food comes from and to build a life-long enthusiasm for appreciating all our food.  I advise women in particular not to view this as a career path only men should pursue. There are a variety of careers within the industry from fishing to new product development. A good start would be to have a go at fishing or to a Saturday job in a local fishmonger.

6. What do you think are the biggest challenges for women in the industry?

I would say to hold your ground and stand up for what you know. It can be a daunting prospect working in an industry that is still so male dominated. I still find many that are patronizing. I was watching some boats on the beach recently and before I had even opened my mouth one of the fishermen said ‘yes love it is a fish, just what you expect at the seaside!” I must have been staring! I had exactly the same thing at Billingsgate but they certainly don’t do it now!

7. If you could go back to your 16 year old self, what advice would you give yourself?

Toughen up, be positive and don’t miss any opportunity sent your way.  I love challenges and what I would do now; I would never had the confidence to do at 16!

8. Who inspires you in the industry and why?

Oh I have several gurus and one is Sue Lucas who has been in the industry all of her life which is inspirational. Sue is currently running her own fishmonger business in Surrey.  Tia from Juneau in Alaska (I’m forgetful with surnames). She is the most elegant fisherman I have ever met. I would love to see her in the UK promoting the industry to women and share her wealth of knowledge. Also, Fred Stroyan, the founder of New England Seafood and the late Peter Stagg from Lelien are both inspirational with their excellent understanding of the industry. 

9. What are your biggest achievements?

I have written several books about Seafood and the first one was back in 1995. The biggest sense of achievement came when the DK Fish Cookbook was published, and I was on a trip to the USA and found it in a book store.  Probably the greatest work achievement was growing into the role as CEO of Billingsgate Seafood School in 2005. My first few weeks on the market were nerve racking as I had to follow in some big food steps and it took about 4 years to feel completely accepted.  

10. Who inspired you to get into the industry?

The interest in seafood started at a very young age on the banks of the River Findhorn in Scotland. Hour upon hour watching out for salmon and brown trout as my Dad and his ghilly patrolled the banks. I had a go at the age of 6 and the first thing I ever caught was an eel. It nearly had me in the water though as it was incredibly strong.  Chris Leftwich (ex Chief Inspector from the market) was my main first contact within the industry. He helped me hugely in the research of my very first book and gave me a considerable amount of time on the market. He is a very knowledgeable man and that inspired me to want to know more! He also persuaded me to consider applying for the role as CEO of the school.

CJ Jackson

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