Discussion of news topics with a point of view, including narratives by individuals regarding their own experiences

A small fish native to Nile River is now served daily around the world.

A drone shot of Lago de Yojoa, a natural lake in a mountainous region of Central Honduras taken on February 10, 2018. Three different tilapia farming operations rear tilapia in the lake using floating pens.
A drone shot of Lago de Yojoa, a natural lake in a mountainous region of Central Honduras taken on February 10, 2018. Three different tilapia farming operations rear tilapia in the lake using floating pens.

In many ways, the overnight boom of tilapia farming in Honduras is a feel-good story. Rural communities are more food secure; harmful coastal fishing has been mitigated; and one of the world’s most sustainable aquaculture companies is investing heavily, bringing high-tech, high-paying jobs to an increasingly destabilized economy.

But for the women behind it all, the story is more complicated.

A female worker looks at the camera while packing tilapia filets in the Aquafinca Saint Peter Fish S.A. plant.
A female worker looks at the camera while packing tilapia filets in the Aquafinca Saint Peter Fish S.A. plant.
An industrial conveyer belt moves tilapia product through the plant.
An industrial conveyer belt moves tilapia product through the plant.

Aquafinca St. Peter Fish is the largest tilapia operation in the country and was at the top of my list when I began reporting. Aquafinca is largely known as an oasis of corporate responsibility in a region known for greedy business and exploited labor.

And almost 70 percent of their workers are women.

A female worker looks at the camera while checking the quality of tilapia filets.
A female worker looks at the camera while checking the quality of tilapia filets.
At dusk, a ladder leans up against a sign painted on the side of the Aquafinca Saint Peter Fish S.A. plant.
At dusk, a ladder leans up against a sign painted on the side of the Aquafinca Saint Peter Fish S.A. plant.

The Aquafinca facility is a 90-minute drive from San Pedro Sula, famous for being the “murder capital of the world” in 2013. I pass by sleepy towns, like Rio Undo and El Zapote, where pot-bellied men loiter outside convenience stores. High-tension power lines and cornfields follow a wide unpaved road. The occasional 18-wheeler passes, kicking up dust, the only visible sign that I am nearing any sort of corporate hub.

The lead female engineer in the Aquafinca Saint Peter Fish S.A. plant demonstrates the fine work of "de-boning" workers on a tilapia filet.
The lead female engineer in the Aquafinca Saint Peter Fish S.A. plant demonstrates the fine work of "de-boning" workers on a tilapia filet.

I’m later told that the fish filet’s on those trucks passing will be exported to Costcos throughout the United States. The trucks also carry leftover scraps; dried scales are shipped to Europe and used in cosmetics.

Inside the royal blue gates, the facility looks like a manicured college campus. Tall palm tress with painted white bands line the brick-paved roads.

A uniform hangs, waiting for workers in the "belly meat" processing room.
A uniform hangs, waiting for workers in the "belly meat" processing room.

One building has mural of a giant red tilapia fish wearing a nurse’s hats: the 24-hour clinic. The building next door has a playground where employees can leave their kids during shifts for free, on-site childcare.

This place indeed had all the trappings of an oasis. But outside of the gates a gender war is escalating.

A female worker looks at the camera peeking around a plastic curtain in a freezer room.
A female worker looks at the camera peeking around a plastic curtain in a freezer room.
A female worker leaves the Aquafinca Saint Peter Fish S.A. plant while two men sit in the afternoon shade.
A female worker leaves the Aquafinca Saint Peter Fish S.A. plant while two men sit in the afternoon shade.

Sex-based violence and retaliation is rising across Honduras, notably in its two largest cities. But the women I photographed and interviewed told me that in the rural villages surrounding the Aquafinca plant it seems especially pronounced. The 28-year-old head veterinarian, tells me that she is always afraid walking around with her friends. Is that fear getting worse? She winces, “Si. Lo aumenta.”

A female worker looks at the camera while moving tilapia filets in boxes.
A female worker looks at the camera while moving tilapia filets in boxes.

I spent an entire day photographing plant operations and interviewing women who participated in a company-sponsored gender equality training. The more I talked to them, the more I learned about what is playing out in the communities where they live.

A female worker, Dilicia, waits for the lights to come back on in the Aquafinca Saint Peter Fish S.A. plant during a power outage.
A female worker, Dilicia, waits for the lights to come back on in the Aquafinca Saint Peter Fish S.A. plant during a power outage.

Many women are making more money than the men in the nearby villages — a lot more. Many men are unemployed. The women, in turn, experience very high rates of street harassment, domestic violence, and abandonment.

A female worker, Sergia Pereira, arrives home on a motorbike from her job at the Aquafinca Saint Peter Fish S.A. plant.
A female worker, Sergia Pereira, arrives home on a motorbike from her job at the Aquafinca Saint Peter Fish S.A. plant.

More than a third of the women who work at the Aquafinca factory are single mothers — left by their husbands because of their well-paying jobs and a type of gender-based jealousy and retaliation often referred to as “la machista.” Five women told me that their partners left them in this manner. The plant’s head engineer, a woman, confirmed that this indeed was an increasing trend across the plant.

A female worker looks at the camera while packing tilapia filets.
A female worker looks at the camera while packing tilapia filets.

Their narrative is one that’s often left out in an otherwise glamorous story of empowerment.

The faces and words of Aquafinca’s working women living through violence and retaliation are part of the global seafood story.

Reporting for this story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation as part of its Adelante Reporting Initiative.

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