A special delicacy on the West Coast, commonly referred to as crayfish, is the West Coast rock lobster or Cape rock lobster (Jasus lalandi1), and it differs from the East Coast rock lobster in both size and appearance.
The catching of crayfish for sport and recreation (private use) is governed by a set of very strict, but sometimes vague rules. It would, therefore, be appropriate to discuss these rules first.
To clear up some of the uncertainties, I had a meeting with Mr Wade Theron of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. He kindly agreed to explain some of the less specific rules and regulations to me. I wish to add that I was impressed by his insight and professional approach in explaining the applicable rules and regulations.
Crayfish Permits: A special permit is required to catch crayfish. Catching crayfish is NOT covered by the normal fishing permits. Permits can be bought from all post offices. Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to acquire a crayfish permit and may, therefore, not catch crayfish.
Catching Season: The new regulations (2010 -2011) with regard to catching periods are somewhat complicated and could lead to misinterpretation and unintentional transgression. The Government Gazette of 12 November 2010 gives the following dates and times for legal crayfish catching (all catching times between 08:00 and 16:00):
- 15 Nov to 21 Nov (both dates included): Every day
- 22 to 26 Nov: Nothing is mentioned about this period, and it is assumed that no crayfish may be caught
- 27 Nov to 12 Dec: Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays only
- 13 Dec to 31 Dec: Every day
- 01 Jan 2011 to 16 Jan 2011: Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays
- 17 Jan to 21 April 2011: No catching of crayfish
- 22 April to 25 April: Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays only
It is expected that these dates will stay in force for some years to come.
The regulation “until 16:00” is a bit ambiguous. The wording states “NO CRAYFISH MAY BE LANDED AFTER 16:00”, and as far as I am concerned, when you have landed a fish, is when it is brought safely on board your boat,if you are using a vessel to catch from. However, this is interpreted differently by various crayfish inspectors. I have seen them catching people because their nets were pulled up after 16:00 and I have seen them fining people for bringing crayfish ashore after 16:00.
It would appear as if “landed” is mostly interpreted as “bringing ashore”. This regulation is further complicated when you are catching crayfish from a yacht or “live-aboard” vessel. It is not covered anywhere in the regulations, but the law enforcement officers seem to agree that a yacht or live-aboard vessel is regarded as a house and, therefore, is “the shore”.
Bag limits: The present bag limit for private crayfishing is 4 per permit holder per day. The maximum number of crayfish that may be transported by whatever means, is 20, on the condition that all the permit holders must be present (i.e. if you are transporting 20 crayfish, there should be 5 permit holders present). The regulation regarding the storage of crayfish is as clear as mud, and makes no sense. Mr Theron kindly explained to me that what is meant, is that a permit holder may store up to 20 crayfish at his or her residence.
Size limits: The minimum size limit for the West Coast rock lobster is 80 mm measured from the tip op the centre horn to the end of the body (where the tail starts).
Legal catching methods: Crayfish for private use may only be caught by a baited crayfish ring, a baited line and scoop net or, when entering the water from shore, by hand using free diving equipment, i.e. no scuba.
It is not allowed to have diving equipment and crayfish rings on the same vessel. Here again, Mr Theron assured me that crayfish inspectors would use their discretion. For instance, if they find dry diving equipment stowed somewhere on a yacht or a live-aboard vessel, they will regard it as part of emergency equipment.
Crayfish in berry (with eggs) or soft-shell crayfish may not be caught.
Crayfish that do not comply with the above regulation should be returned to the sea immediately with minimum damage.
Crayfish may not be transferred from one vessel to another at sea. In the case of live-aboard vessels, transferring crayfish from a tender to a yacht, for instance, is allowed, although this is not clearly stated in the regulations.
No crayfish may be processed (cooked, etc.) at sea. It is allowed on live-aboard vessels, but no crayfish rests may be dumped in the sea. It should be kept on board and disposed of on dry land.
Buying Crayfish from Private Individuals: In the past, law enforcement officers often turned a blind eye to individuals who openly sold crayfish illegally to the public, for instance in front of a certain well-known local hotel. It would appear that they regarded it as Sea Fisheries problem. The result was that undersized and unlimited crayfish were sold to unsuspecting holiday makers, who may then be stopped by the crayfish inspectors and fined. Mr Theron assured me that this has now changed, the co-operation between Sea Fisheries and the SAPS has improved significantly and that they are now “pulling in the same direction”. The new regulations regarding the selling of crayfish by local fishermen are now valid.
Local fishermen may now apply for and be issued with an Interim Relief Permit. This permit has a distinct number and entitles the holder to catch and sell up to 80 crayfish per month, but with the following restrictions:
The maximum of 80 crayfish may be sold per month with a minimum of two transactions, e.g. he/she may sell 79 today and 1 tomorrow but not all 80 in one deal.
- The crayfish must comply with all normal catching regulations and restrictions,except the bag-limit.
- The seller must also issue the buyer with a receipt showing the following information :
- Name of the permit hol
- Name of the buyer.
- Date and
- Registration number of the vehicle of the
- The number of crayfish
This will lear the buyer of trespassing the law by not having a permit.
Male or Female Crayfish:
The number of male crayfish that may be caught differed from the number of female crayfish allowed. It is, therefore, important to know how to distinguish between a male and female crayfish.
The female crayfish has an extra toe on the set of hind legs (see photo,top right). This is used for scratching the newly hatched baby crayfish from its tail and send them on their way to become part of the ocean-wide food chain.
The male crayfish has smaller “leaves” under its tail,while those of the female are much larger to cover the eggs to some extent (see photo, bottom left page.)
Note: It is of the utmost importance that permit holders must fill in the required data on the back of the permit after each catch. Even if no crayfish were caught, it should be entered into the required space. Heavy fines can be imposed if this process is neglected.
Where to catch. No crayfish may be caught in closed areas. These areas are clearly marked or explained on Sea Fisheries pamphlets and they include the complete Saldanha Bay and Langebaan Lagoon areas.
Crayfish are mostly caught in shallow rocky regions amongst kelp beds. This makes catching from a ski-boat very risky,so extreme care should be exercised while manoeuvring amongst rocks. Watch it breaking waves and shallow submerged rocks.
POPULAR CATCHING AREAS:
Dassen Island: The complete shoreline of Dassen productive. The closest launch is from Yzerfontein. Be very careful to the West and South of the Island where heavy waves are normally breaking. This area also has plenty of blinders and shallow submerged rocks.
Watch out for the many commercial crayfish traps with long lines crisscrossing all over the show. You do not want to end up close to breaking waves with a rope around a propeller.
Vondeling Island: This small island is about 6 km South-East of the South-head lighthouse in the mouth of the Langebaan Lagoon. Good catches have been made right around the Island, but I have never been lucky at Vondeling, and do not consider it worth the time and cost to go there.
Plankies Bay: Plankies Bay is about 3 km South-East of the South head lighthouse (halfway to Vondeling). There are three main productive areas in Plankies Bay. First is the area around the blinder near 33°06.B’S and 17°57.5’E. Please note that all my grid-references are in degrees, minutes and decimal minutes (not seconds). Watch out for waves breaking over the blinder. My best catches have been South and East (shore-side) of the blinder in 12 to 15 meters of water. The bottom in this area is very rough and nets should be pulled up vertically to reduce the likelihood of the rings getting stuck. The second area is the southern side of Plankies next to the white beach. Here the shore is roughly East-West and to an extent protected from the prevailing southwesterly swell. Put down the nets as close as possible to the rocks. The depth is about 5 meters, so do not make your lines too long (maximum 1O meters). If the lines are too long,the wind can blow the float around or onto exposed rocks, making it dangerous or impossible to recover. The third area is just South (around the point) of the second area. The sea must be absolutely flat. Move into the gullies and put down the nets in 3 to 5 meters of water.
Deep Water Pinnacles: While trawling for snoek, I discovered two pinnacles South and West of Jutten Island where the bottom comes up from 40 meters to 20 meters. The one is at 33°06.85S and 17°56.3’E and the other at 33°06.125’S and 17°56.5’E. I have not tried these areas for crayfish, but will put down some deep-water nets (at least 30 meters of line) on them if the sea conditions are calm. These are also good spots for Cape Hottentot and Jakopever fish, while waiting for the crayfish to climb into the nets. Do not anchor here. The anchor will get stuck. Fish while drifting over the areas with baited hooks about one meter above the bottom.
Schooner Rock Area: Schooner Rock is just south of the North-head lighthouse. It sticks vertically out of the water and is clearly visible and marked on all marine maps and GPS’s. The area just East and North east of the rock has proven productive. The sea must be flat. The water is 12 to 20 meters deep. I have lost a number of nets that got stuck here. So, use older nets if you have. Watch out: this is close to a prohibited area, so make sure that you do not stray into the closed area.
The Bay at 33°02.6’5 and 17°54’E: This bay is to the North of Schooner Rock. It is surrounded by many pinnacles and blinders, and should be approached carefully at slow speed. The whole area along the coast, close to the rocks, is very productive and the sizes are normally better than at Plankies.
Danger Bay: Just North of the little bay described above, is Danger Bay. Both the Northern and Southern tips of the bay are fair crayfish areas. There are shallow rocks with kelp beds around them. Watch out for Cap-Rock and Bay-rock at the entrance to the bay. There are periodic breakers over these blinders. The advantage of Danger Bay is that the crayfish areas are well protected, and in a strong South Easter the Southern tip can still be exploited. The problem is getting back to the lagoon into the wind and waves. But, like most fishing areas on the West Coast,go early and be back before the wind picks up.
Tieties Bay: This popular camping spot is reached by vehicle when travelling through Paternoster and then past the Columbine Lighthouse. Entrance is by swimming from the shore.A good spot is the main bay (where the main ablution block is) which is well protected. Enter at the Northern side in a shallow sandy bay, and swim to the rocks and kelp at the Northern entrance to the bay. Good catches can be made in about 10 meters of water. Another very good area is the next bay, where the road ends. Swim out to the rocks just outside the bay. In 8 to 10 meters of water,very good catches of good-sized crayfish is common. Watch out for the strong surge when getting out of the water. It tends to pull you back, and if you then hold onto something, diving equipment can be lost (if anyone finds a blue Mares flipper there, please contact me, it is mine).
North Blinder: North Blinder is a shallow reef in the open sea, about 9 km North-West when launching at Stompneus-Bay. The reef is spread out around 32.37.85’S and 17 57.9’E. Good catches of crayfish are made early in the season. The advantage of North Blinder is that it is a very productive fishing area for all popular bottom fish species as well as snoek. So, if the crayfish is scarce, your day is not wasted.
CRAYFISH CATCHING METHODS
When operating from a ski-boat, the best way of catching crayfish is the ring-net. It consists of a ring, about 60 cm in diameter, onto which a round-shaped net is attached. These nets are sold in all tackle shops, already made up with lines, bait-bags and floats. The following tips are the result of many years of trial and error.
Three lines are attached to the ring. These lines join in the center of the ring, and from there, one line goes to the float. Make sure that one line is a “trip-line”, which will break when the net is stuck. The red plastic lines that the farmers use for hay-bales are prefect. The bait-bag should be big enough to hold at least one snoek head and three pilchards.
Tip: Tie a 1 to 2 Kg cobblestone to the bottom of the net. Keep some tension on the line while you are lowering it. This will ensure that your net goes down horizontally, with the bait-bag in the center.
Adjust the length of the float-line to be not more than twice the depth of the area.
Tip. Make sure that your float is easily identifiable. Paint it if necessary. Places like Plankies Bay can become very crowded during the season, with 20 to 30 nets floating around.Finding your 5 liter oilcan among 20 similar others can be frustrating.
How long to leave the net in the water is a subject of fierce debate. It depends on many factors. My advice is to start with 20 minutes from drop to pull-up. If all the bait has been eaten and there are few crayfish in the net, re-bait and lower it in the same spot, but pull-up after 10 minutes. If the bait is still intact after 20 minutes, move the net to another location. Even 5 meters can make a difference.
Tip: It is not true that crayfish like rotten bait. Use fresh fish chunks or snoek-heads, but always add one or two pilchards.Their oil attracts the crayfish. Keep your small Steentjies that you catch. Cut in chunks and use for bait. It works very well.
When pulling up the net, move closer slowly and quietly until the line is vertical (directly above the net), now give a strong jerk to drop them to the bottom of the net, and keep pulling fast. Inspect and measure the catch and return the illegal ones to the water immediately.
Tip: Keep a scoop-net handy, and hold it under the net as it comes out of the water. Many crayfish cling to the outside of the net, and drop off as you lift the net into the boat.