West Coast crayfish takes pride of place at the top of South Africa’s most desirable seafood list. A far cry from the previous century when fishermen regarded them as pests to be tossed overboard when caught in their nets, only useful to be sold in wagon loads to farmers as fertilizer.
This internationally sought after gourmet delicacy occurs only in the waters off the south-western coast from north of Walvis Bay (Namibia) to East London on the east coast of South Africa. A slow growing crustacean, with male crayfish taking 7 to 10 years to attain a catchable size and females up to 20 years.
The species display some fascinating characteristics, such as making use of ocean currents to transport their young away from parent populations, only for the young to return several months later to resettle on “home territory”. These drifting, transparent miniatures of adult lobsters are capable of swimming long distances thereby returning to the area in which the parent stock lives.
Commercial Crayfish Industry
The lucrative West Coast rock lobster fishery is one of the country’s oldest fisheries, dating back to at least 1875, when the first commercial processing plant was established. Today crayfish factories are found all along the West Coast, especially in Saldanha, St Helena Bay, Elands Bay, Doring Bay and Lamberts Bay.
Jasus Ialandii is caught inshore by traps and hoop nets deployed from small vessels, and is also harvested by recreational divers.
During the 1990s, a decrease in growth rate, and insufficient numbers of juvenile lobsters in the population to sustain a healthy fishery in the immediate future, reduced total rock-lobster landings, with the total allowable catches down to about half that of the 1980s.
Currently the harvestable mass is estimated to be only some 5% of pre-exploitation levels. Despite this earlier significant depletion on the West Coast, the crayfish population has now stabilized, an improvement largely due to the implementation of crayfish fishing controls.
The commercial fishery for West Coast rock lobster is controlled by using combinations of total allowable catch quotas allocated for zones along the coast, a minimum size limit, closed seasons, daily bag limits and restricted fishing (08h00–16h00) during seasonal fishing days.
Visit Draaihoek Restaurant to savour this West Coast delicacy. During season fresh crayfish features prominently on the menu, served as a main item on the Draaihoek Restaurant menu or complemented by a selection of seafood.