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!

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