Greatest Fish Farm in the World

South Africa has a lengthy coastline, 1350 nautical miles, 2500km for the landlubbers, along which flows the most fertile seawater that Gaïa has bestowed upon us living. The biological richness of our surrounding sea has at times been remarked upon but has never been considered as very noteworthy. Not very surprising as this country never had a government worth mentioning before 1900, the old Boere of the Cape gave the country away to the avaricious Brits and Oom Paul Kruger, as a result had his hands full with the bloody Rooinekke.

All the Brits ever did was to visit war on the local people as an imbecilic royalty in England had appointed an equally imbecilic Duke of Wellington to ‘sjek out dat country down dere’. This Duke, through a fluke, escaped being beaten by another megalomaniac, Napoleon and, henceforth, appointed his cronies of the military as Governors of the Cape.

True to the nature of their profession, all of them proved to be disasters, the worst of them was Harry Smith, who I describe in my book, ‘Sink The Birkenhead’. During the period that Britain became the boss of this country from 1800 to 1900 nothing was achieved or built to further the well being of its inhabitants.

The contrary took place, Wellington’s pals caused eight wars with the Xhosa people and had it not been for Chief Maqoma, no one today would have known the word Xhosa or the name Mandela. It all finished horribly when governor Milne managed to ignite the war between Oom Paul and the limeys. The amount of hatred that was sown during those few years is still flowering today, more than a century later.

Diamonds were discovered, gold was found aplenty while steadfast Boere remained on the veld to grow food in semi-desert conditions. Other Boere took to politics and, strengthened by the strongly flowering hate, threw the bleddy Engelsman out of government.

By now, dear readers, if I’ve got any left, you might be wondering where I’m going from our sea shores to a bunch of bloody politicians. I’m getting to it now: since the first European set foot on what is now South Africa, no one has realised the enormous wealth that surrounds us as seawater. Escaped slaves from the Cape Town area, who managed to hide near Hangklip and Hawston were the first to know about the abundance of fine fish that were there for the catching. After WW2 fishing companies started up the robbery of our coastal seas and have not stopped since. After more than 70 years of destructive fishing there are still fish left which shows the fertility of the our seas. The most awful aspect of the fishing methods employed is how pilchards or sardines are caught and destroyed.

In the beginning of the 20th century american fisherman discovered enormous shoals of sardine along the west coast of South America. Shoals of a thousand tons or more. What to do with these vast quantities of fish? In the Mediterranean, sardine had been fished since Egyptian times and are still caught today. Have a look in some small ports of the Costa Brava in the early morning. The boats come in with a few tons of fish, all carefully packed in shallow boxes and as soon ashore, are covered with ice flakes. In no time, all is auctioned and everyone can have a satisfying meal with this lovely fish.

Yes, but what to do when you can catch thousands of tons? You can’t store it because the fish becomes pulp, cooling is too expensive and customers for intact fish are too far away. Trust the americans, they set up factories to turn this lovely eating fish into fishmeal that is used to feed chickens, pigs, whatever. It has even been used as fertiliser. In South Africa the same thing happened when the sardines were discovered in the cold waters of the west coast. I know, I was a fisherman when that pilchard bonanza started at Saldanha, Veldrif and Paternoster. Purse-sein nets are used for this kind of fishing, they are like a kind of long curtain that is cast around the shoal in a circle and then a bottom rope is pulled tight that closes the net like a bag. I won’t go into more detail but I can assure you that these fish become a slurry when pumped into the fish hold and then turned into an obnoxious powder in the factory. In South Africa you cannot buy a fresh sardine, if you want to eat it, go buy some chicken or pork! A prime eating fish that could easily be sold for R20/kg goes to the factory for 70 cents.

The other fisheries for hake, cape salmon, etc. are not properly controlled either because no south african government has ever known a bloody thing about fishing. The Boere fellows only knew about farming and today’s black chaps and ladies appear to be even less competent.

I will now tell you what has to be done to set up south african fishing as a permanently viable business.

First the government must proclaim an exclusive economical zone around the coast of 200 nautical miles. Within this region only south african vessels belonging to SA companies can fish. It’s no precedent, a small country like Iceland battled England in the 1970’s to keep its fish. A country of 350 000 inhabitants checked 70 million Englishmen. Today, only Iceland still has a viable cod fish population, in the rest of the seaworld this once super abundant species has almost become extinct.

Of course the Prince Edward Islands should not be forgotten as they are a great place for Patagonian tooth fish and that our inept SA Navy has been unable to protect. It is evident that the SA companies that will have the privilege to fish in these waters will have to take action to ensure that their harvest is sustainable. For that they’ll have to undertake the necessary research to repopulate their fishing areas with fertilised eggs, fingerlings, any method that will sustain future fish populations. The same method must be applied for the abalone and crayfish populations. We have plenty of capable biologists in our universities who know how to do this.

The surface of South Africa is roughly 1.2 million km2. The surface of the exclusive economical zone is about 875 thousand km2, with the Islands, a good million. SA soil remains the same, decade after decade despite fertilisers, whereas the sea is constantly renewed by the Agulhas and Benguela currents.

And that is not all. I have caught mackerel on the surface, shot red stumpnose at a depth of 20 meters and have trawled for sole at 100 meters. Other fish can be caught much deeper still. A farmer can only work the surface of his land, the fisherman can extend his activities down to hundreds of meters. With careful husbandry the potential of this 200mile zone is unlimited. The Agulhas Bank alone is one of the world’s richest fishing grounds.

The fishing companies will support such really sustainable fishing and repopulating and nothing is easier to put the abalone fishing back on track. The abalone farms have millions of tiny slow growing abalones that can be used to restock the littoral directly. Even if only 10% of these little ones grow, in ten years the coast between Agulhas and Saldanha can be restocked as it was 40 years ago.

One thing has to be stopped though, if this kind of fishing is to succeed: No more fish meal factories. Pilchards can still be caught, but in much smaller quantities and sold for a lot more money, say R20/kg. They must be caught carefully as they bruise easily but it will be much easier here than in the Med as our water is much colder. The companies must make a plan to truck their fish inland so that the poorer people can buy good fish for not too much money.

The pilchards that are not turned into powder anymore will be eaten by the snoek, yellowtail, kob and geelbek, which means that in a few years the great shoals of these fish of 60 years ago will be back again. Let me tell you a little story. In the 1950’s I often fished out of the Hermanus old harbour with one of those open boats that can still be seen today as wrecks. We went out with nothing, a few cotton or hemp handlines that had been soaked in ox blood as a preservative. First we had to catch the bait with a wee line with chicken feathers on the hooks wherewith we caught the mackerel, 3, 4 at the time. Then we went after the big fish, kob, cape salmon or snoek, all big chaps that took a hell of a lot of pulling. Often we were back in port after 4 hours with a boat full of fish for which we received peanuts, of course.

We should be able to get back to this kind of fishing, BUT, WE NEED COPS!

The whole world’s fishing boats are after our fish and our coast is being plundered night and day and nothing is done about because our navy is useless and has always been so. The Boere put the admirals in Pretoria, Timbuctu would have been fine also. Under the black government things have not improved, a few years ago a young black girl was made vice-admiral but when she started stealing a bit we didn’t hear about her anymore. This country doesn’t need a navy it needs a Coast Guard and a very good one to patrol a million square kilometers.

The trouble is that we don’t have many people in this country who can do that job. The Boere were never much good as seamen and the Blacks are no better. Five hundred years ago Europe began to make seamen, it took a few hundred years and then the world was overrun by Europeans because they had or were seamen.

What we have now in Simonds Town will never make a Coast Guard, a week ago these navy jokers took out a vessel to check out the fishing and 2 days later they were back in with something broken they could not repair.

The Coast Guard that is needed must be manned by tough and good seamen who can catch marauding foreign fishing vessels as well as polluting cargo ships. They must apply the SA law and they must be able to shoot. A black manned Coast Guard will not work, they do not have the experience.

Now let us see what has to be done.

1) Lawyers must set up the Exclusive Economic Zone. Don’t be shy, Iceland and Peru have done it also. Proclaim what will happen to thieving and polluting ships. That big ore carrier that is now lying in False Bay should have been auctioned already by SA authorities. Lawyers are plentiful, for once they’ll have an honest job.

2) Fishing companies and marine biologists must get together and produce a plan to repopulate on a grand scale the fish they want to catch. It is a feasible proposition for a million square kilometers.

3) A Coast Guard is to be established, without which, nothing of the above can be implemented.

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2 Responses to FISH FOR AFRICA.

  1. Nick, what a brilliant summary of our sad fishing saga. It should be shared with Carte Blanche and also with our so able Minister of Marine & Coastal Management.
    To buy fresh sardines in our quaint little fishing village is a sheer impossibility. Imagine, you would not be able to buy Emmentaler Cheese in Switzerland.

  2. sean bradley says:

    Read your article with great enjoyment

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