Highlighting Women in Electronic Technologies: Part 2

March 25, 2020

We are highlighting women that support electronic technologies in U.S. fisheries in a two-part series to celebrate Women’s History Month.

Electronic monitoring and electronic reporting technologies are being developed to support science-based management decisions in commercial and recreational fisheries. NOAA Fisheries is working with fishermen and industry organizations, fishery management councils, and many other partners. We will improve the timeliness, quality, cost effectiveness, and accessibility of fishery-dependent data by integrating technology into fishery reporting and monitoring programs. Learn about nine women from around the country who are helping shape the future of electronic technologies in U.S fisheries.

Mel Sanderson

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Chief Operating Officer
Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance
Chatham, Massachusetts

Originally from Minnesota, Mel Sanderson received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Occidental College. She earned her master’s of coastal environmental management from Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment. While in graduate school, Mel interned with the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association (now the Fishermen’s Alliance). The following October, the Alliance asked if she wanted to come back after she graduated to manage a new cooperative research project that she helped design while interning. Almost 16 years later, she’s still there. She works to ensure the sustainability of both the fisheries and the small fishing businesses that rely upon them. She has held almost every role at the Fishermen’s Alliance—a direct consequence of always being willing to say yes to whatever needed to be done in a small non-profit. She also has great bosses that support her need for a fresh challenge every few years.  

In her role, Mel manages the regional electronic monitoring (EM) pre-implementation project for New England groundfish. She contracts with EM service providers and coordinates with NOAA and more than 20 fishermen. Together, they design, troubleshoot, and refine the EM audit model program design. 

Mel particularly enjoys that no two days are the same in her job, and occasionally she even gets to go on fishing boats!

“Fishermen, on the whole, are less likely to swear and lose their temper around women. I generally benefit from that, having more even-tempered discussions, while my male colleagues may get an earful from the same fisherman. In terms of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, my philosophy is to not take everything so personally and to be confident in my abilities. People are people. Let the small slights go and focus on confidently doing the job, stepping up to new challenges, and being a team player.”

Lisa Schmidt

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Bohica Fishing, Inc.
Palm Harbor, Florida

Lisa Schmidt grew up in Michigan and moved to Florida about 35 years ago. There, she attended St. Petersburg College and subsequently became a surgical charge nurse. After the passing of her husband in 2015, Lisa suddenly found herself the owner of the commercial fishing company that he established, Bohica Fishing, Inc. At Bohica Fishing, Lisa oversees three longline vessels that fish in the Gulf of Mexico. All of Lisa’s vessels are installed with cameras for electronic monitoring (EM), which pioneered the EM Research Program through the Center for Fisheries Electronic Monitoring at Mote Marine Laboratory. She has been promoting EM in the Gulf of Mexico by attending workshops, educating, and recruiting both commercial fishermen and charter-for-hire boats to participate.

Lisa also holds a spot on the Board of Directors of the Shareholders Alliance, a non-profit fishermen’s organization in the Gulf of Mexico. It represents the interests of commercial fishermen and other stakeholders that want to bring sustainability and accountability to fisheries management. Lisa particularly enjoys working to help young fishermen enter the industry through her position on the Young Fishermen’s Development Act Steering Committee.

In her spare time, Lisa is an avid outdoorswoman, spearfisher, and freediver. “As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I find I’ve received a lot of respect for taking over my husband’s company. This path has led me to meet a lot of cool people, including female fishermen and scientists that bring a different perspective to the industry.”

Abigail Turner-Franke

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Project Coordinator
North Pacific Fisheries Association
Homer, Alaska

 Abigail spent the majority of her childhood in Homer, Alaska which is a decidedly maritime community. She began commercial fishing for salmon in Kodiak, Alaska with her parents as a child, and continued through most of her twenties on several different vessels. It was out there on the water that she made some of her best friends and contacts in the commercial fishing industry. With a B.S. in communications, Abigail now works as a project coordinator for the North Pacific Fisheries Association (NPFA). Abigail is a firm believer that no one is self-made, and if it weren’t for those friends she made on the back deck, on set gillnet fish sites, or on the docks, she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work with fishermen in the capacity that she is with NPFA.

NPFA recognized electronic monitoring (EM) on traditionally human observed vessels as the direction that fishery monitoring would take in the future. Instead of trying to run from it, NPFA got involved in developing it so that they could help find a solution that made sense for their fleets and fisheries in Alaska. Abigail has had the opportunity to participate in fleet outreach and recruitment in both the pacific cod pot fishing fleet and longline fleets. She also serves on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee and works closely with other industry leaders to continue building a sustainable EM program that works well for everyone.

Abigail works for the NPFA board of directors and their members and sponsors, all of whom care about sustainable fisheries and the future of coastal communities. She loves the people she works for and with and the opportunities she has to learn from them. Abigail also loves working with portions of the fleet that aren’t necessarily members and may be from other ports around Alaska. Participating in the NPFMC’s Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee especially has provided Abigail with ample opportunity to work with people from other sectors, Council staff, and NOAA Fisheries.

“I have never felt dominated as a woman in my industry. On the contrary, I have felt like I’ve been given more breaks and opportunities. While I was fishing, it always seemed like gender was the least important thing on the back deck when you’re hauling in the net and trying to keep your feet on the deck. Performance, attitude, and keeping your head about you were what mattered the most. However, I do think I probably stood out a bit because there are not as many women that participate in the industry. Standing out is not a bad thing. I had several mentors that blazed a trail before me in electronic technologies in Alaska and caught me up with the direction our region was taking and helped me to find a stronger voice in the process.

Leigh Habegger

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Executive Director
Seafood Harvesters of America
Washington, DC

Leigh grew up in Winston-Salem, NC and first discovered her love of the ocean while visiting her grandparents in south Florida during school breaks. During her undergraduate education at UNC Chapel Hill, Leigh was studying to be a doctor before switching her focus to marine sciences. After a series of experiences and jobs in and around the ocean, including SCUBA diving in Belize for coral research, Leigh was exposed to the human component of marine biology. She discovered she enjoyed working with the fishermen and was drawn more to the “people” side of this field than the fish side. That led her to graduate school at University of Rhode Island where she studied fisheries policy, ocean law, and coastal governance. Leigh was then accepted to the Knauss Fellowship as a legislative fellow working for Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-01), followed by jobs working with small boat fishermen and then coastal restoration policy. Most recently, Leigh is the Executive Director for Seafood Harvesters of America, an organization that represents commercial fishermen and their associations.

As Executive Director of a national commercial fishing association that includes members from Alaska to New England, Leigh works to support policies and initiatives at the national level that support the development, innovation, and use of electronic technologies in the commercial fishing industry. She helps liaise between federal entities (Congress, NOAA, etc) and the fishing industry to address concerns, improve program design, and advocate for federal funding for NOAA’s electronic technology work.

In her current role, Leigh particularly enjoys getting to work with so many passionate leaders in the commercial fishing industry. Leigh finds it easy to come to work when visions align and there’s a commitment to ensuring the viability of the fishing industry and sustainability of fisheries resources.

“As a woman who is, the grand scheme of the fisheries world, relatively new to the field, I can offer new insights, perspectives, and suggestions to a field that is used to doing things in the relatively same manner it has been doing things for a long time. There have been many women who have paved the way for my female colleagues and me and I feel extremely lucky to benefit from the work they have undertaken. I feel even luckier to be able to continue working with many of them still today to effect change for the industry we represent, ensuring not only fishermen are able to stay on the water, but that American consumers maintain their access to the best seafood in the world.”