A South African fishing town centers on bringing in snoek, a staple fish

The boats line up along the jetty, bobbing in the cold south Atlantic waters, to bring in the day's catch in the early afternoon. The long, thin silver snoek fish is one of South Africa's traditional foods and a main source of income for the town of Lambert's Bay.

Hours earlier, the same jetty would have been quieter as fisherman set off at dawn out into the open ocean water. The snoek, a species of snake mackerel, are caught with hand lines, using smaller pike, mackerel or pilchards (sardines) as bait. Sometimes, the anglers use what is locally known as "bokstang" — a lure made of rubber from old rugby balls. Snoek can weigh up to 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) and grow up to two meters (more than six feet) in length.

At the end of the day, the fishermen have loaded as much of the day's catch as their boats can carry. Often, the catch has been sold before it is passed off the boat and piled into heaps on the concrete quay. The crowd of buyers, known locally as "langana," barter with the fishermen still on the water.

Once sold, the snoek is handed over to an assembly line of cleaners. With a clean slice down the belly, the fish is gutted, the innards pulled out, fins and head swiftly sliced off in a process known as flicking. The cleaned flesh is salted to keep the meat firm for the market.

Jaco Groenewald, the captain of a 10-crew boat, makes up to $2 a fish. At 42, he describes his life as "school, army, then fishing." When the migratory snoek moved away for months, only returning a few weeks ago, he said he earned nothing.

While the snoek was away, John Mostert said he caught whatever he could in his three-man boat named "Viper." At 63, Mostert has been fishing for "a lifetime now."


Associated Press writer Lynsey Chutel reported from Johannesburg.