Despite growing up in a fishing family in Ulladulla, Graciella Lavalle never thought she’d carve out a career in the fishing industry. That all changed when she married a commercial fisherman and later became director of her family’s fishing business, Lavalle Fisheries and South Seas Tuna. Tuna Australia spoke with Graciella about her upbringing, juggling motherhood and work, and gender equality in the industry.
Can you tell us about your family’s background?
I’m a third-generation commercial fisher and my family, the Puglisi’s, were among the fishing pioneers of tuna and trawl fisheries based in Ulladulla. Originating from Lipari, Italy, my ancestors brought their fishing skills and began a new life for their families in this great country of opportunity.
Your family started the seafood business in 2009. How did your dad, Pino Puglisi, respond?
We began by purchasing our first vessel South Seas 1. Nine years later, we purchased our second tuna longline vessel, Markarna. My father was very supportive of the first decision to step into the industry as he had great faith in our ability. By the time we purchased Markarna we had proven our success and so he has only continued to be supportive.
You’re a mother of three running a busy tuna company. How do you juggle everything?
I’ve put aside my own dreams and aspirations to be my husband’s partner in the tuna industry to achieve the goals we set for ourselves and grow to the globally-recognised company we are today.
I have watched my husband Paul go to sea hundreds of times. Paul completes the long fishing days at sea, and I complete the long hours at home raising our family, managing the household and running the business.
Over the years, I have grown with the business and learnt so much about dedication and sacrifice and how putting the two together can be a secret for success. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have today without my parents’ and friends’ constant care and support.
Where do you see yourself and the business in five years’ time?
I am very proud of what we’ve achieved already in the 10 years of working in the tuna industry. In five years’ time, our South Seas Tuna brand will be continuing to catch and supply the world with sustainable wild-caught high-quality Tuna. We’ll take every opportunity to expand and grow our family business as we believe in the high-quality resource that we catch.
You’ve been exposed to the fishing industry your whole life. What’s been your experience of gender roles in the industry?
Gender separation is something that has been around for as long as I can remember. As a young girl with an Italian upbringing, I watched my mother spend many nights alone as she raised four girls mostly without direct contact from my father as he spent long hours at sea. There was a man’s role in the fishing industry and there was a woman’s role. The two never crossed paths.
But since becoming involved with the tuna fishing company, my input has been highly regarded and supported by my husband. This was a shock to me at the beginning given the typecasting that had occurred in the industry.
The tuna industry has long been a male-dominated sector. How is it shifting to one of balance for all?
The gender equality gap in the industry has lessened since I was a child, but we still have a long way to go. Women have always had a role in the tuna fishing industry, but we’ve just gone unrecognised. In such a male-dominated industry, men are becoming more open to the idea of gender equality.
What role do you hope to play in striving for gender equality in the tuna industry?
I am proud to stand tall as an active ambassador for women in the commercial tuna fishing industry. I represent all of the working mums who are actively contributing to the family business while raising their families and supporting their children’s needs and their husbands, and conquering goals together as a team.