The hake fisheries

In South Africa, hake is targeted by four distinct fisheries: the deep-sea and inshore trawl fisheries, and the hake longline and hake handline sectors. The deep-sea trawl fishery is by far the biggest of the four; approximately 84% of the hake total allowable catch (TAC) is allocated to the deep-sea fishery. The inshore trawl and hake longline fisheries are each allocated approximately 6% of the hake TAC and the handline fishery presently accounts for about 3% of the allocation.

The deep-sea trawl fishery

The deep-sea trawl fishery operates on well established trawl grounds around the South African coast, extending from the Namibian border on the west coast to the extreme eastern part of the Agulhas Bank near Port Elizabeth. Exploitation is predominantly in 300 to 800m water depth and waters shallower than 200m on the south coast.

The deep-sea trawl fishery catches predominantly deep water hake (Merluccius paradoxus) which comprises an estimated 80% of the fleet’s catch. The fleet consists of approximately 27 fresh fish trawlers (commonly called “wetfish” trawlers) with an average length of 45m and an average tonnage of 600 tons; plus 25 freezer trawlers ranging in length from 30 to 90m and from 300 to 2 900 GRT.

Otter trawling is the main method of fishing. With this method, a large net is towed behind the trawler, with the mouth of the net being held open by two large doors (hydroplanes) which are attached to either side of the net. Thick steel cables, called trawl warps, are used to tow the net. Once the back of the net (called the “cod end” or the “bag”) is filled with fish, the net is hauled back on board the vessel and emptied into the fish factory. Fish workers clean the catch and, on wetfish vessels, store the fish on ice for processing on land. On freezer trawlers, however, the catch is cleaned, processed and frozen at sea.

The inshore trawl fishery

The inshore trawl fishery is the “little brother” of the deep-sea trawl fishery and targets the Cape hakes as well as Agulhas sole (Austroglossus pectoralis). It catches approximately 6% of the global TAC for hake (about 9 000 tons per year).

Approximately 30 trawlers participate in the fishery which operates on the south coast between Cape Agulhas and Port Elizabeth. The vessels are smaller and less powerful than those used in the deep-sea trawl fishery; they range in length from 14 to 36m and engine size is restricted to 1 000hp. Modern stern trawlers, as well as much older side trawlers, form part of the fishing fleet. The fishery targets shallow water hake and sole, but catches display a much higher species mix than those of the deep-sea trawl fishery.

The hake longline fishery

The hake longline fishery uses a bottom set double line system with hooks spaced about 1.5m apart and as many as 20 000 baited hooks extending at least 10km along the seafloor. This gear arrangement targets both species of hake, and there is a small bycatch of other demersal species.

The hake handline fishery

The hake handline fishery grew rapidly in the early 2000s in response to strong demand from Europe for prime quality (PQ) fresh hake. Fishers use baited hooks attached to a handline, or a fishing rod fitted with a simple reel to target hake. Fishing is from small (5 to 6m) ski-boats that are towed to slipways closest to the areas where the best hake catches are being made. At the fishery’s peak, hake handline fishers ranged between Stillbaai on the south coast, to Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape. However, the global economic crisis of 2008 hit the handline fishery hard and participation in the fishery has reduced considerably.