It’s early in the morning in the west coast. It’s still pitch dark and cold outside, but everywhere you can hear men getting ready for a day at sea. Those who have already finished, drive with their boats, in all sizes, on the main road to the sea. There are expensive and luxury boats and then there are small and simple boats. Many of the boat- and bakkie-registrations testify of the distant places where the men come from. Because even though the snoek runs abundantly on this part of the west coast, it still does not run everywhere.
It’s still lockdown in our country and the sounds of the fishermen bring hope to all who have already lost so much during this time. It’s as if there is an expectant and hopeful atmosphere hanging in the air. It’s as if one can hear the guys think “Maybe the fish are running well today, and then, maybe we will have enough money or enough hope to carry us through the next month or two.”
Most residents in the town are still asleep when the boats are pushed into the water. For those who are privileged enough to have a view on the harbour or have fisherman for neighbours, this is something to behold. Most men are dressed in bright yellow or orange rain jackets and overalls, to protect them from the water and weather. The temperature is very low and it’s freezing cold. But clearly that’s not what is uppermost in the men’s thoughts. Fish fever is simply too high. And with social media, men now have only one thing they crave, and that is to pull out those shiny bodies.
Fortunately, the sea is merciful to the men today and the waves are not too high or too ‘choppy’. And the promise of sunshine and little wind are just the things that keep the men fired. Yesterday the sea was less merciful, and the boats, who did go out, returned early. It’s not worth risking lives if the sea and weather do not play together.
It’s just after one o’clock in the afternoon and the boats are starting to return from the sea. Just outside the town Yzerfontein, there is the fish market and this is also the unloading place for the boats. All along the parameters of the fish market there are white pickups and delivery vehicles waiting for the boats to arrive. There is also a heavily loaded caravan parked with necessary fishermen’s goods: fishing lines and hooks, course salt, bags, knives, soft drinks and chips. Just about anything the men, who have just returned from the sea, might need.
I talk to some of the men and women who are waiting. “Madam” they say, “this is nothing yet. You just have to see what it looks like from two o’clock onwards, then it’s a madhouse. No one knows their forwards from their backwards, in a manner of speaking. There are pickups and boats wherever you look and the men have to work very fast, because otherwise the fish will become mushy and many still have to drive far!” I ask if they are all hawkers, and they laugh. “No, we hope that one of the boats will have an extra snoek for us to buy. We drove all the way from St Helena Bay for that snoek, because the snoek is not yet running where we are, and we are already craving a piece of fresh snoek.”
The excitement increases, because now the boats are arriving one after the other and, once in, everything has to go very fast. Behind each boat follows another vehicle or two, loaded with the fishermen who were out to sea. Fish must now be unloaded quickly and the men who buy the fish must then still process the fish before it can go to the outside markets.
Hubby, meanwhile, did some investigating of his own, and it was not long before he finds a boat where there were two extra snoeke. Most of the pickups that are already waiting, have negotiated quotas for their fish. So, we are lucky. This boat has an extra snoek for us. Our one neighbor also arrives, and he tips us off that we can have the fish cut up and cleaned by the local fisherman, at the market, for a very minimal amount. This is a very useful tip and we immediately make use of the offer. The men filleted the fish in no time
The guys are working hard and it’s going fast. We chat a little and the fishermen give advice. We learn of snoek having to be “salted in with coarse salt and then rinsed off after a few hours and hung on a line outside in the wind to dry. Otherwise, they explained, the snoek will become mushy”. We are advised to also not fold the snoek when we put it in the cooler bag for transport, because “…the snoek will become soft.” Clearly, the handling of the fish is very important to the fishermen. We learn about snoek calves and fish heads and what is delicious and what the men eat and the way they prepare it.
The one fisherman says that the snoek ran so well today that he even caught the fish without bait. As he cast the line in, the snoek took it. He simply threw in and pulled out. “The snoek were craving for bites today! Oh, it was great!” The smiles lay thickly over the men’s faces as they laughed, chatted, joked and worked together.
Things are going crazy and, as was predicted, it is now becoming a bustle like we have never seen before. Pickups stand next to boats. Large sails are thrown over the back of the bakkie and the fishermen throw the fish into the sails. The delivery containers are being loaded with fish and everything goes fast because everyone wants to finish the day’s work. For the fishermen it’s the end of the day’s work and for the hawkers it’s just the beginning of all they have to do before the first fish is to be sold.
We watch the process at a safe distance for a while and then we decide to go to the harbour to see what is going on there. Once there, we saw several boats lying in the harbour waiting to take their turn to be helped out of the water at the jetty. The quicker that they can get out of the sea, the quicker they can be on their way to the fish market. It resembles a procession as the men ride with their boats and entourage out of the harbour and town again.
The fishing was good, the men caught well. The snoek ran as they had all hoped. Heavily loaded bakkies are now driving to their respective towns where the fish will be sold tomorrow. Somewhere, men or women are waiting expectantly for the vehicles to deliver their pre-ordered snoek that they are going to cook over a fire. Maybe the snoek ends up on a plate in an expensive restaurant or it becomes a snoek pie in a small country town, who knows? But one thing is for sure, the snoek fever will continue in the days to come on the west coast.
And here at our house, there’s currently a snoek hanging on a wire after it was salted.
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