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The Crayfish Industry

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Crayfish - rock lobster The West Coast crayfish - Jasus Ialandii - was enjoyed by the first Portuguese navigators, but this sought-after seafood delicacy only recently became really popular (and expensive). The West Coast crayfishing industry earns millions each year and employs large numbers of the local people.

In the previous century fishermen regarded these ubiquitous crayfish as a pest and when they caught them in their nets they would simply toss them overboard. Wagons loads of dead crayfish were collected and sold to farmers as fertiliser.

It was only when markets abroad started to show an increasing interest in crayfish that fishermen began to can the product - from 1890 onwards. In 1902 a full-blown crayfishing industry was in operation, canning and exporting crayfish to France in particular.

Today the product is known world-wide. The USA and Japan are two of it's biggest customers. Some crayfish are also exported live to gourmet markets overseas.

Crayfish are found mostly on the rocky seabed, closer inshore in some places, and live mainly on mussels. The crayfish has an interesting life-cycle. It takes from 7 to 10 years for a male crayfish to attain a catchable size. Female crayfish may take up to 20 years to reach this size. Some crayfish are taken by individual divers, but most of the commercial catches are made with nets and traps let down from boats.

In an attempt to control the exploitation of this dwindling resource, the total commercial catch is controlled by quotas. Catching as well as packaging and processing of crayfish products is a major source of employment in the region.

Crayfish factories are found all along the coast, especially in Saldanha, St Helena Bay, Elands Bay, Doring Bay and Lamberts Bay.

Author - Cornel Truter, West Coast Tourist Guide
Photograph: Crayfish by Wayne Bodenstein

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