Know your bait: Chokka (Part 2)

Most people use their bait without giving a second thought of as to how it got into their bait box. We thought we would share a bit of light on the subject. This week we will be focussing on our local squid species, Loligo reynaudii, commonly known as “chokka”. 

Loligo reynaudii, is primarily distributed along the coast of South Africa, with majority of the biomass occurring between East London and Struisbaai. However a smaller population of chokka has been found off the coast of southern Angola.

The South African squid fishery is a huge industry and plays a major role in the socio-economic well-being of individuals, particularly those in the Eastern Cape. Within South Africa the species is predominantly caught by commercial boats whom primarily target large spawning aggregations. Boats vary in size, ranging from smaller 45ft to larger 75ft vessels. These vessels are manned with between 16 to 30 crew members. The boats are all equipped with state of the art technology. Huge generators are required to power onboard refrigeration and lighting. A chokka boat, generates enough electricity to power 40 average households!

Chokka fishing is definitely not for the faint hearted and can be considered South Africa’s version of “Deadliest Catch”. Trips normally last for 21 days and often boats are out at sea during foul weather.

STEP 1:

Chokka are caught using handlines and squid jigs (locally known as a “chokka dollie”). Crew will fish multiple lines, with up to four jigs per line. It is an extremely labour intensive operation as the lines need to be moving at all times – so its a matter of constant throwing and retrieving. Watching a seasoned chokka fishermen will make it look easy, until you give it a try for yourself. Despite the tedious nature of the job, good humour and constant banter keeps them going throughout the long hours. Those who don’t perform as well are often labelled a “papslang”!

STEP TWO:

Each crew member stands in his own station, which is known as a “laaikie”. Each individual will place his catch into crates. Every 6 hours or so, depending on the catch, the mate or skipper will scale. Each crew will bring their bin, it will be weighed and then sorted into sizes and packed into labelled pans accordingly.

STEP 3:

Pans are placed into the blast freezer, which maintains a temperature of -40 degrees celsius.

STEP 4:

Once the squid reaches a core temperature of -20 (which can take approximately 8 hours) it is ready to be “glazed”. The pans are removed from the blast freezer, sprayed down with fresh seawater, knocked out of the pans, placed into chokka bags and stored in the holds of the vessel. The larger vessels can hold up to 45 tons of squid.

STEP 5:

As our squid is predominantly for the export market, all vessels must adhere to HACCP standards which ensure that all food safety hazards are identified, evaluated and controlled. Upon returning to port, chokka is unpacked from the holds and placed directly into refrigerated trucks and transported to the factories. A certain percentage of blocks are put aside for quality testing. From the factory the squid is distributed around the globe, with the majority of the biomass being exported to Europe and Japan. A small percentage is distributed locally for bait purposes. All that nice, soft squid which is consumed at local restaurants is 99% of the time, imported trawled squid of a considerably lower standard.

Some food for thought – each block of chokka gets handled at least 6 times by each crew member. If 40 tons of chokka is offloaded, that means that each crew has essentially lifted 240 tons of chokka in less than 21 days! 

Next time you bait up and admire that beautiful bait on your hook, take a moment to appreciate the way in which your bait has been caught and handled and the people who have worked hard, long hours to supply you with the best product possible! 

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