Getting to the fishing grounds

I pull my face deeper into the hood of my green oilskin and shudder against the icy wind. It will be a two-hour journey aboard the Blue Starfish to the mouth of False Bay. It is still pitch dark and in the distance a dim horseshoe of twinkles indicates where the ocean meets the land. This is a journey that traditional hand-line fishermen have been making for generations, but with decimated fish stocks and unstable permit systems, it is uncertain how much longer they will be able to continue.

‘My darling, you’re shivering. Turn to face the back of the boat.’ I am startled by an old fisherman who is sitting just to my right. Most of the crew are playing cards at the back of the boat or sleeping on the bunks below. The old man’s name is Yussuf. He is not one of the crew, but used to skipper his own boat and, despite being in his 70s, he cannot bear to be away from the sea.

False Bay, also known as ‘die blou dam’ (the blue dam) to local communities, is a microcosm for what has happened in the rest of South Africa and in other parts of the world. A hundred years ago the bay teemed with life, and fish and fishermen thrived. Then came decades of concentrated exploitation that has decimated fish stocks. And yet,

despite shrinking catches and increasing costs, the communities whose culture and livelihood were founded on fishing are still desperately clutching their lines.