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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Know your bait: Mackerel (Part 1)

Most people use their bait without giving a second thought of how it got into their bait box. We thought we would share a bit of light on the subject. We will start off our “Know your bait series” with the death cycle of a “bait” mackerel. 

S. japonicus, commonly known as  mackerel, is a widespread coastal shoaling pelagic species which is found to occur in the warmer waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans as well as in the Mediterranean. Mackerel is commercially exploited throughout its geographical range.

Our local bait market is supplied by a number of dedicated mackerel handline boats. There are also large purse seiners which target mackerel however these fish are often of a lower quality and mostly end up in our canneries.

Mackerel boats usually head out to sea late afternoon. Before leaving port the boat loads up with sardine and ice. The skipper will usually sound around an area where mackerel has recently been found- once a trace of mackerel is detected, anchor will be dropped and the crew will begin to chum vigorously in order to lure them closer to the boat. Crew usually fish with a single handline with a single hook – this is the most efficient method of fishing as they are normally caught within 5m of the boat. A few mackerel are sacrificed on the boat, cut into small blocks and used as bait. The mackerel are then placed directly into insulated laaitjies, which are filled with an ice-water slurry. The ice-slurry rapidly reduces the core temperature of the mackerel and thereby not only acts as a form of euthanasia but also allows for the quality of the fish to be maintained at the highest possible level. How a fish is handled within the first 30minutes after being land plays a HUGE role in determining the quality of the catch. After a number of hours, each crew will weigh their catch, pack it into crates and place it on ice in the holds. Upon returning to the harbour,  in the early hours of the morning, a refrigerated vehicle will collect the catch for the evening and transport it to the factory. The fish are then sorted according to size, packaged and placed into the blast freezer where chilled air (normally -40degrees celcius) is blown over the trays, rapidly freezing the fish. The packaged, blast frozen fish is then distributed to tackle shops, where it is later purchased, placed back onto a hook and returned to the ocean!

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!

Don’t want to miss the next part of the “Know your bait series”? It’s easy, subscribe to our blog, by filling your email address in the box below, and receive email notifications when a new post is added!