I love early morning walks along the beach before the sun rose when there are few people about. Creating the first footprints in the damp sand is a wonderful feeling.
The Sardine Run is expected soon and it is Shad Season right now, so there were lots of fishermen clustered on rocks. I didn’t engage much as I couldn’t think of anything positive to say besides “Having fun?”. I quickened my pace when I came across men poking sharp things into the rock pools in search of octopus – that really is a bit much and the best I could do was smile sadly in greeting. It seems so completely barbaric.
I did make friends with a few fellow early walkers. While I was taking pics of the Oyster Catchers on the shoreline, one of the regular beach walkers told me he didn’t like the birds. They are really attractive, so I was puzzled. “Well, they are not supposed to be here”. I understood that their range has now extended up the coast and replied that this was probably a result of Climate Change, but what’s not to like about them? “They eat all the sea lice and one of the fish I like to catch is Pompano. Sea lice are the best bait for Pompano.” Well blow me down, now I have heard everything. Birds struggling to survive by venturing out of their familiar territory are vilified for ruining the recreation of a retired businessman. I can imagine the furious headlines in the South Coast Herald!
So I learned all about a fish I’d never heard of before – Pompano has a small mouth and a deeply forked tail. The body is a pale blue along the back with the sides silver and white along the belly. The fins have a touch of yellow to them. They can be found in warm shallow water where they feed over sand along beaches or close to rocky outcrops. They eat ghost crabs apparently. They sound really pretty, probably taste nice too. My new friend just looked at me quizzically when I pointed out that “The Oyster Catchers can’t shop at Checkers, so what are they supposed to do?”
There were masses of oysters and teeny mussels on the rocks. There didn’t seem to be any size besides teeny – so had all the rest been harvested? I have occasionally in the past seen people gathering shellfish with shovels and bush knives. Even if you just pick them off carefully by hand, if every retired resident of Pennington did that, they wouldn’t last long.
I came across the remains of someone’s late night beach barbecue – rock lobster. I assumed caught and consumed before anyone ‘in authority’ wandered by. I didn’t get worked up about this, I accept that coastal folk will catch fish to supplement their diets. Even when creatures are endangered, they will probably continue until all is gone.
I know that there are laws to try and stop overfishing and that there is a closed season for some fish to help them survive. For instance, it is illegal to sell Shad and you are only allowed to catch four a day. So it was a bit of a shock when the man came up from the beach and offered us some Shad from his bag (he is an avid fisherman and goes down every day). There were 12 in the bag! Eish. “Are you going to be able to eat all of these?” I asked. Oh no, he replied, he sells them to a man who stays at the retirement village and a visitor from Jo’burg is a customer too. So he is paying little attention to the regulations, although I am sure he has a permit. His customers are breaking the law too encouraging this behaviour, but it is hard to be mean about the effort he puts into ‘making a living’. He then proceeded to tell me how much better fish was for you than eating beef. Wrong audience.
All this just reinforces my view that our wildlife is sunk unless humans radically change their behaviour. I do realise it is not the recreational fishermen but the big greedy trawlers that are the real problem, but I was interested now about the regulations which govern shore fishing and read the pamphlet at the cottage and looked up the Ezemvelo website too.
EKZNW lists all the fish you are allowed to catch, with minimum sizes and bag limits. They say: “It is important that we conserve our marine resources before it’s too late. Our marine resources are not endless, and over recent years, over utilisation of stocks have caused the survival of some species to be placed in serious jeopardy.” However, according to the list, it appears you are allowed to catch 10 Blue Fin Tuna a day, if you have recreational fishing permit which costs R76 per year! I was very pleased to read on their website that Coelacanth are a prohibited species (ha!) and that “No person shall, except with the authority of a permit, attract by using bait or any other means, any great white shark, or catch, attempt to catch, kill or attempt to kill any great white shark, or purchase, sell or offer for sale any part or product derived thereof.” Wonder how much that permit costs?
I am really curious about why we don’t generally get more worked up about fishing. Hunting is generally frowned upon in my community, and no one would dream of catching a Serval for supper. Every day, as the sardines were more likely to appear, there were more and more fishermen joining the frenzy. Perhaps with the coastal waters warmed by Climate Change, they simply won’t come by this year? Do any fishermen make the connection between their lifestyles and the demise of their favourite pastime? Unlikely. Do any of the shoppers in Pennington Saverite make the connections between their packets of imported frozen fish and the end of the world as we know it? Of course not.