By Jade McClune at Swakopmund
SOME dive for crayfish as a personal challenge, but for some longtime beachcombers who know the wealth of marine life in these waters, it’s a passion, a chance to earn some income from the bounty of the Atlantic, to put good food on the table, and to practice the ancient and unrecognised sport of going up alone against the waves to get your dinner from the sea.
A sought-after delicacy with its distinctive white flesh – and popular on the coastal menu – rock lobster on the local market can typically fetch the seller around N$200 per kg.
But in recent times, some divers along the shore have run into trouble with the law over where, when and how much crayfish they can catch. Over the December holiday last year, more than N$34,000 in fines were levied on recreational fisher-folk and half a dozen were arrested for illegal activities that included overfishing of rock lobster, fishing without permits, or fishing in protected areas.
So, as it is the start of the 2018/19 rock lobster harvest season, it may be a good time to go over the ground rules – just to be sure the basics are covered. Here are a few facts to keep in mind:
Under the Marine Resources Act no person may harvest any rock lobster – or langouste as it is also known – between 1 May and 31 October. The harvest season runs strictly from 1 November to 30 April, both days included, and one may also not harvest rock lobster between sunset and sunrise.
A person with a permit may catch and keep at most seven rock lobster per day. The permit costs N$14. The diver must bring the crayfish ashore in a whole state and then each one must be measured individually, not later than 15 minutes after it was caught, at the place where it was caught.
Harvested crayfish must have a carapace size of at least 65mm, otherwise it must be returned to the water. The carapace is the hard upper section of its orange-brown exoskeleton (shell).
It is also illegal to sell or have in one’s possession “any rock lobster in berry or showing signs of having been stripped of the berry”, or with a crayfish tail that has been severed from the body if the bottom section of the tail is less than 16.6 mm in length.
When they’re in berry, female rock lobsters carry their orange eggs on tiny hairs beneath their tails for 80 to 90 days until the eggs hatch and produce tiny transparent spider-like larvae.
Given the drift and strength of the Benguela current and the movement of the tides, a crayfish diver along the Namibian shore must be relatively skilled to be successful, as they may only use a snorkel and no other artificial breathing apparatus or devices, meaning no ring net, and no hook, line or scoop-net to lift rock lobster from the water once the many-legged crustaceans are reeled to the surface.
A person may have in their possession rock lobsters on behalf of another person, provided that person is present and in possession of a fishing permit.
Fisheries officials say these measures are in place not to make life hard for the divers, but to protect the West Coast rock lobster, which is still commonly found from the mouth of the Orange River up to the Swakop River. Further south, it is estimated that commercial overfishing along the shores of South Africa has depleted the population of rock lobster by more than 98 percent over the past five decades.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015