I was sitting on the beach the other morning with my vegan friend I could see these were old hands at this … A couple of guys were absolutely smashing the Shad in front us…. putting back the smaller ones and keeping some beauties. As the one guy was reeling in a feisty one, I was thinking how delicious a pan fried Shad would be to take home for breakfast and cursing myself for not bringing my rod with me. It was just then when she turned around to me and said, “Don’t you think they’ve got enough? Those poor fish!” I was a little lost for words actually.
Having worked with passionate marine conservationists over the years I am well aware that our oceans are in big trouble. We should never lose site of the fact however that there is a BIG difference between commercial fishing and recreational fishing. Both have boundaries and codes of ethics. Some legislated, some not. At the heart of this lies the individual that is doing the catching. When it comes to sustainability it is the character of those individuals who can make or break things.
Here in the greater St Francis region there are a LOT of fishermen. They’re a huge part of our culture and history. It’s more than an institution or sport …. I would liken it more to a religion.
Packing one’s gear the night before. Gently informing the missus and telling her what time you’ll be back. (more or less). Checking the tides. Scoring the bait. The weather. The sea temperature and visibility. The early wake up. The walk to the spot you’d found recently. Baiting the hook and casting out as the sun creeps over the horizon. That feeling as you stand with your finger on the nylon as your mind finally goes into neutral. The anticipation as you feel that “duk …duk …duk” on the line. Then the “graggadukdukduk” knowing you’re ON! The rush of the fight and the thrill of landing a ‘Boytjie’!
It’s epic stuff. But let me not leave out the best part. Later on … your family and friends around the fire telling fishing stories and enjoying a delicious freshly foraged meal. Questions like “So where did you catch this one Mike?” Answers like “There on the other side my Bru” …. Don’t for one moment think that a fisherman is going to give away secrets that easily! Gotta love the fishing banter around a fire …..
Fishing subculture runs deep. It’s been written into folklore for centuries. I believe most of our fishing fraternity DO respect the ocean and understand what fish are okay to catch and which are less so. Developing that consciousness can only enhance ones love and respect for the ocean and it’s continued (localised) abundance. Every now and again it’s good to ask oneself, “How can I fish more responsibly?”
We have much to be grateful for, lets not take things for granted. Here’s to all the locals who regard Mother Ocean as their church. This stuff runs deep for many of us and is worth honouring. A special shout out to those are helping fight the battle against the devastating exploitation further offshore … Massive respect to you! I have visions of the “St Francis Sea Shepard” … no doubt there’ll be no shortage of crew members.
Back on the beach, as I sat there pondering my vegan friend’s question, (and the bigger picture) it got answered right before my eyes. I looked up and checked the ‘Ballie’ we’d been watching thread six fat Shad onto a nylon rope, rinse them in the sea, pack his bag and head off down the beach. Enough for the braai later with some friends…. and a few (carefully edited) stories. With renewed enthusiasm and a little stoke for the Ou I retorted, “He’s got the perfect amount and they’re nutritious and delicious!” …. She just rolled her perfect, deep brown, militant eyes at me …. “Oh look” I said … “There’s an Oyster Catcher over there!”
Article by Stephen Praetorious