Chokka, Hake and Pilchard Fleet

Chokka Fleet

What is chokka?

Squid, known as chokka in South Africa, is part of the ink fish family and the specie caught in our waters is Loligo Vulgaris. Before the 1980’s it was mainly caught and used as bait, but as European food markets were already selling it as a high-priced delicacy called calamari, local fisherman soon investigated and explored the opportunity to export our squid to mainly Europe, today a multi million industry.  A squid has a head with eight tentacles, and a tube-like body. The tube is either opened up and served as Calamari steaks or cut in rings, hence the confusion that you are eating octopus!! The heads are often deep fried, and make a scrumptious treat!

Squid/chokka is only caught by means of a hand line attached to a special coloured lead jig (with a multi hooked head) and coloured plastic floats.  The two dollies (one lead jig and one floater) are connected to about 50m of 19kg or 22kg fishing line, wound around a piece of wood, giving the fisherman something to controls the line with.

Chokka vessel

Chokka vessel

Crew can catch with two lines at a time, but experienced crew can manage up to four lines at once.  The squid/chokka is caught on the sea bed, but most of the times can be caught just a few metres below the surface, when they are in a feeding frenzy.  At this rate catches of up to 5 ton can be caught in a few hours with a crew of between 21 and 26 men per vessel.  They catch mainly at night, as huge halogen lights attract the different species of fish the chokka feeds on.

When fishermen lowers the jig into the water, the little hooks catch the chokka’s tentacles and when he feels the weight on the line he pulls it up. The fisherman throws his catch into a crate and tries for the next one. The chokka is then neatly finger laid into a stainless steel pan, sorted according to size and blast frozen at -40C on the vessel. Once frozen, it is packed in a plastic bag and stored in the holding room until they offload at Port St Francis. These vessels are indeed sea based factories, and can stay at sea to up to three weeks.

The industry is well regulated, as vessels are only allowed to carry crew according to their total amount of permits, and the industry is closed during the breeding season in November. The frozen product is mainly exported to Europe.

Hake Long Liners

The hake industry is controlled by a yearly quota system, granted to boat owners on application once every five years. These vessels go out to sea for up to three days, taking with them enough ice to keep their product as close to 0C as possible.  They offload whole gutted hake.

When offloaded, the fish is re-iced immediately, packed on ice bags into large polystyrene containers and flies out to mainly Spain on the same day. Ice is made in the ice plant, or huge tower overlooking the fleet.

Pilchard Trawlers

Pilchards netted in our waters are used mainly for bait. These boats go to sea with adequate ice to chill the pilchards, a process that is repeated when landing and offloading at Port St Francis. It is then sorted at the factory according to size, packed into boxes and blast frozen to -40C.