2.5 Pescadores, Peixateres, and Patronas

Home Ondine Pescadores, Peixateres, and Patronas

Women in the fishing communities of Mallorca (Spain)

Although fishing is regarded as a purely male trade, it largely depends on the contribution made by women. This observation is valid from a productive point of view and the social relations generated by this trade.

In small fishing communities, women carry out a wide range of tasks related to fishery: first of all, naturally, fishing; then, transporting, cleaning and selling the catch; taking care of the everyday maintenance of the fishing boat and the equipment on board; finally, finding the bait.

On the island of Mallorca, in the 20th century, women played a crucial role in maintaining social cohesion within the maritime communities to which they belonged. Women closely collaborated in many “gendered” fishery-related activities. Regarding the sale of fish, women were able to generate strong social relationships, cooperation ties and knowledge transfer among their peers. In addition, fishmongers also established intense contact with people outside the fishing group, thus reducing the marginalization nature of small fishing communities.

Moreover, women were able to create community cohesion by carrying out practising certain working activities usually undertaken by men. This was the case in Mallorca, when women collaborated in pulling small fishing boats ashore. As for other activities (i.e., fishing, mending nets, or transporting catches), genderless forms of social cohesion occurred because they were carried out by both men and women, working side by side.

So, not unlike other comparable socioeconomic contexts, on Mallorca Island the relevance of women’s fishery-related work activities went far beyond the merely productive dimension. Women were crucial in keeping the fishing communities’ social and cultural features alive. At the same time, they provided the link to the outside world.  

Ariana Domínguez García
University of the Balearic Islands


Family portrait

Fig. 2.5.a – As in other contexts, in Mallorca small-scale fishery was a family-based trade. In the picture a family of fishermen from Cala de Sant Vicenç, Port of Pollença (c. 1930).
(Pollença AM, Guillem Bestard Cerdà, 41-10.2410)



In Mallorca, during the first half of the 20th century the sale of fish was characterized by “street vending”. Groups of women (the peixateres) used to sell fish aboard the fishing boats or on the streets. This type of vending was characterised by a female and collective nature.

Fig. 2.5.b.1 – Street fishmonger Isabel Martínez, alias Sa Cubana, selling fish in the port of Andratx, c. 1980.
(Andratx AM, CFJCV-44)
Fig. 2.5.b.2 – A group of street fishmongers selling fish in the port of Pollença, c. 1950.
(Arxiu familiar Borràs Alemany)


Women side by side

Fig. 2.5.c – Two girls mending nets on the streets in Port de Sóller.
(Arxiu familiar Guillem Casanovas)


Mallorca Before Mass-Tourism

From the 1950s, mass-tourism has caused significant socioeconomic changes within the fishing communities of Mallorca. Likewise, mass-tourism brought a dramatic change of the island’s maritime landscape.

Video 2.5.d.1 – Nettie McGaving recorded the lifestyle of the fishing community of Pollença. In her documentary, she portrayed the significant role played by fishermen’s wives in the unloading and selling of fish. The video is preserved at the National Library of Scotland (Reference number: 0133).
Fig. 2.5.d.2 – The port of Palma between the 19th and 20th centuries.
(AFCEC, Morello_A_5968)


Working hard

Fig. 2.5.e – Women transporting the catch previously carried out by the fishermen on the coast, c.1930.
(ASIM, Gaspar Rul·lan)



From the second half of the 20th century, the authorities started to promote the sale of fish in regulated markets. This kind of sale was closely connected with fish auctions. Patronas were women fishmongers who worked as auctioneers and acted as intermediaries between fishermen and consumers at the wholesale fish market (llotja del peix) of Palma.

Fig. 2.5.f.1Patronas selling and bidding lots of fish in the wholesale fish market of Palma, c. 1990. The image is taken from the video La llotja del peix.
(ASIM, V-662)
Fig. 2.5.f.2 – A painting depicting a fish auction in the wholesale fish market of Palma.
(Joan Antoni Fuster Valiente, 1941)


Make work for gender equity, not (sexes) war!

Fig. 2.5.g – Women and men working together unloading the catch in the port of Andratx, c. 1950.
(Andratx AM, CFJCV-166)


Can we do it? We have been already doing it!

Mallorquínes involved in fishery know that there are not any proper “men’s” and “women’s” jobs. Mallorcan maritime Herstory tell us that women not only “can do it”, but that they “have already been doing it” too!

Fig. 2.5.h.1 – Women pulling a small fishing boat ashore. Illustration inspired by oral testimonies from fishmongers of S’Estanyol de Migjorn.
(Abril Iriani, 2021)
Fig. 2.5.h.2 – Captain Olga Capote and her husband Carlos Batle working together on the fishing boat Es Batlets off the coast of Alcúdia.
(Ph. Ariana Domínguez, 2022)