Fish Hoek’s trek fishermen say times are tough and their catch for the season is well below what they usually bank on to support their families.
The fishing season usually runs from September to about May. It’s June now, but because their catches have been so meagre, the fishermen can still be seen waiting to hear the call on their radios for incoming fish.
Fish Hoek has 24 trek fishermen who operate using two boats.
Fisherman Elroy “Chunky” Jones has been a fisherman for 13 years, and he usually starts his day by looking at the weather forecast and sea conditions because these give the fishermen a pretty good idea of whether they can expect a good catch.
But if the weather and ocean don’t give any clear signals, there’s always the “walkie talkie” the fishermen use to communicate with spotters up on the mountain.
If the call comes in, the fishermen have to move quickly to launch their boat.
But they’ve had slim pickings this year, says Mr Jones. “On a good day, we could catch between 20 to 30 tons of fish – yellowtail, harders, katonkel, different kinds.”
But the catches have not been anything like that this year, according to Alec Adonis, a second-generation fisherman who says they’ve caught less than 20 tons for the entire season and this has been the worst season he has seen in his three years as a fisherman.
Things have been very hard since the start of the pandemic, and the lockdown, he says.
Hoosain Petersen, who has been a fisherman for seven years, says they’re at the mercy of the ocean’s whims. “Sometimes we don’t catch any fish for a few months, sometimes we catch fish every day. The fish play around, we could be in the water for hours.“
The fishermen say they have to have a lot of patience because a lot of time is spent waiting for the call to come in on the radio. “We play games, dominoes, and we make a fire while we wait for the radio call,” says Mr Jones.
The fishermen do not sell fish directly to the public. Instead, they have “bosses” who sell their catch to factories and other businesses. These employers also cover the costs of maintaining the fishermen’s boats and nets.
“We don’t earn much – sometimes nothing, sometimes R200 depending on the catch,” says Mr Adonis.