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The History of Hake and Deep-Sea Fishing in South Africa

A Fisherman's Place - 08 April 2022

The History of Hake and Deep-Sea Fishing in South Africa

How South Africans Always Beat the Odds


As is the case with a lot of South African history, the history of deep-sea fishing and trawling in our country is truly remarkable in that it has demonstrated, time and again, that South Africans can come back from the edge of disaster. Fresh fish in Cape Town and South Africa, in general, is an industry that was pushed to the brink of collapse and has come back, stronger than before. Natural resource depletion is one of the chief worries of the 21st century, and of course, the fresh fish delivery industry is not exempt from this concern. Pescaluna is a fresh fish pioneer in Cape Town and catches some of the highest quality fresh fish around. We deliver fresh fish straight to your door from our dock in Hout Bay. In this article, we do a deep dive into South Africa’s hake and deep-sea fishing culture.


The trawling industry in South Africa is said to have been established in 1897 and is now booming economy encompassing the high standards of fresh fish delivery in Hout Bay, Kalk Bay, Cape Town Harbour, and the other towns surrounding the Mother City. Pieter Faure, who would go down in history as South Africa’s first steam trawler and ocean resources researcher, arrived in the Cape to undertake the daunting, but undoubtedly necessary task of assessing the state of the marine resources and reporting these findings to colony’s administrators. Not only this, but his faithful trawler brought in many hauls of the Agulhas and West Coast sole which sold at 2 for a penny, a huge departure from today’s modern fresh fish delivery in and around Cape Town, at the local fish market. Sole was the backbone of the fresh fish industry in Cape Town until World War 2 when radical food shortages forced local
fishermen to look to Cape Hake as another option. Hake fishing would go on to become the thing for which the local industry is best known, worldwide.

As the fleet was still minimal in the 1800s, the real expansion began in the 1930s, annual catch numbers were still relatively low - 1000 tonnes per year. Once the expansion of the 1930s began in earnest, yearly catch numbers exploded to around 50,000 tonnes in 1950. A further 5 years down the line and technology had
advanced so much with cold rooms and echolocation that the average yearly catch was around 115,000 tonnes. The fresh fish delivery industry in Cape Town was booming. But this prosperity would not continue unchallenged for long.


It was not long before the treasures found beneath the waves of the South African coast aroused the interest of many foreign fishers, looking to expand their territories. Fresh fish in Cape Town would now be a resource that caused some degree of conflict. In the early 60s, our teeming waters began to be invaded by ravenous fleets from as far afield as Japan, Spain, Bulgaria, and Romania. While catch rates skyrocketed, our local South African trawlers were bringing in less and less fish, beaten by the foreigners now staking out our waters. Modern-day requirements did not yet apply, so the vessels from abroad were hauling in smaller fish instead of throwing them back to allow for breeding. Capetonian towns would not be able to hold up under these circumstances never mind growing into consumer-friendly fresh
fish deliveries services. Something had to be done to secure our place in and ensure the continuation of fresh fish industries in Cape Town and its surroundings.

In the 70s, catches peaked at 1.1 million tonnes with the total of South African and Namibian catches together. South Africa’s catch on its own was 300 000 tonnes (a whopping double the sustainable amount that it peaks at today). Fortunately, the catch rate numbers told a story of a natural resource that was being consumed far too quickly, and the authorities decided to act to save fresh fish delivery across the country. After many voices raised these grave concerns, the International Commission for the Southeast Atlantic Fisheries was founded in 1972 and they quickly set about standardising things like minimum fish size, inspections and catch allowances.

The Quota System

A few years further on in 1988 the well known Law of the Sea Treaty, which was brought about by the United Nations, set the stage for South African fisheries, fishing grounds, and fresh fish delivery in Cape Town to grow into what it is today. This treaty set up what was known as an Exclusive Economic Zone for the country to fish - without any interference from foreign vessels. The declaration of this 200 mile
stretch of ocean that would give the fish population and crews a chance to revive (and save all industries relying on fresh fish in Cape Town and the surrounds) was celebrated among the local fishermen. By 1997, the Quota System had been formalised and implemented. Each company would have a quota based on a number of actors such as investment and performance. This course of action likely saved the oceans around the Cape Peninsula from complete overfishing and also, by extension, saved the industries relying heavily on fresh fish in Cape Town and

In 1988, to further regulate the exploitation of this beloved natural resource, the Sea Fishery Act was successfully passed. This, among other things, established a Quota Board to ensure fair and impartial allocation. This board successfully redistributed quotas and was instrumental in increasing the size of the local industry, ensuring that fresh fish delivery in Cape Town has never been a problem.

Democracy Reigns

As South Africa stepped forward into the light of the Democratic Era, changes to the economic structure of the country came thick and fast. BEE meant making space in the industry for locals who had previously been disregarded. After 18 long months of negotiation, the 1997 White Paper was released. This document detailed the necessity of an industry restructuring which would ultimately lead to the Marine Living Resources Act being passed the following year. Many fishermen fishing from the land were suddenly able to become participants in an industry that had not welcomed them before 2000 - this provided a new source of fresh fish delivery in Hout Bay, Kalk Bay and many other coastal towns with adorated fishing spots as well as jobs.

A few years down the line, in 2006, the quota system was streamlined even further by implementing the Kleinschmidt Allocation. This system, being far more rigorous than any that came before it, would further formalise the allocation of fishing rights and ensure that fresh fish delivery and a fair industry standard continued hitch-free, countrywide. Shortly thereafter, 235 new rights holders joined the ranks of the fishing
industry to further ensure that the fresh fish industry in Cape Town continued to thrive. Pescaluna is honoured to be a part of this bustling industry that keeps the people of Cape Town and South Africa supplied with our fresh fish delivery service every day.

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