The Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and North End coastline seen from Algoa Bay
Fishing boats out in Algoa Bay and St Francis Bay are regular sights to residents and visitors of Port Elizabeth, Jeffrey’s Bay and St Francis. These boats can often be seen taking shelter in the bays when bad weather is forecasted and at night it looks like a town out on the water with all the bright lights out there. The majority of these boats are chokka boats with the region being home to the South African chokka industry.
The squid (or chokka) industry started in the early 1980’s with boats landing fresh chokka in Plettenberg Bay and Port Elizabeth and later in St Francis Bay. The export market developed very quickly as the South African species – Loligo Reynaudii –is very similar to the Mediterranean squid and fetches a higher price in Europe and Japan than it would on the local market.
According to Wikipedia, Loligo reynaudii, commonly known as the Cape Hope squid, is a 20–30 cm long squid belonging to the family Loliginidae. In South Africa it is known as either calamari or chokka. It was previously treated as a subspecies of Loligo vulgaris, the European squid
The industry began with a few operators and grew over time with many of the original skippers buying their own vessels and becaming owner operators. By the early 1990’s the first freezer vessels were being built that could stay at sea for up to 21 days. Squad could be landed, graded and frozen for export while sea, making these vessels virtually floating factories.
Chokka, often referred to as white gold, is caught by means of a hand line attached to a special coloured lead jig with a multi hook head and a plastic colourful float, called dollies. The dollies are connected to fishing line wound around a piece of wood, giving the fisherman something to control the line with. Crew can catch with two lines at a time, but an experienced crew can manage up to four lines at once.
The chokka is caught on the sea bed as well as just a few metres below the surface when they are in a feeding frenzy. Crews catch mainly at night, with the huge halogen lights on the boats attracting the different species of fish the chokka feeds on. These are the bright lights you can see out at sea at night. When the fisherman lowers the jig into the water, the little hooks catch the chokka’s tentacles and when he feels the weight on the line he pulls it up. The fisherman throws his catch into a crate and tries for the next one. The chokka is then neatly laid into a stainless steel pan, sorted according to size and blast frozen to -20°C on the vessel. Once frozen, it is then packed in a plastic bag and stored in the holding room until it is offloaded.
People are often concerned about overfishing of chokka. The chokka season is closed for close to 5 months a year and there are protected areas where they aren’t allowed to fish at all any time of the year. They also catch with hand lines as opposed to nets plus fishing is restricted to a number of permits issued. The squid also lives for a “year plus “naturally so the life cycle is short.
Suddenly I feel like a lekker plate of deep fried calamari, onions rings and chips. Plus now you know where your calamari comes from.
Over the last couple of weeks local whale watching outfit Raggy Charters has spotted two different pods of orcas on two occasions while out cruising in Algoa Bay. Owner Lloyd Edwards also saw the one pod cruise by Seaview a little less than a week ago. Yesterday there was excitement in St Francis Bay when a pod was encountered in the bay. We are fortunate to have these visitors to the area every once in a while, but I haven’t heard of so many sightings over a space of a couple of weeks, so this is really special. The dolphins in the area must be really worried at the moment though.
This brings me to my first (and only) sighting of an orca in the wild. About a year or so ago I got to go out with Raggy Charters on their new boat, My China‘s, maiden voyage. What a day! A big pod of Common Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins and penguins at St Croix, bait ball with tons of sea birds hunting, Minke Whale and then the call came. Orca spotted beyond the island. We dashed and had a fantastic encounter with a big male orca. Something I’ll never forget.
Port Elizabeth and Algoa Bay truly is the best marine experience destination in South Africa. Whales, dolphins, penguins, sea birds, orcas on occasion, bait balls of sardines especially just before the start of the Sardine Run, Great White sharks, and various other marine species.
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A little while ago I had the fantastic opportunity to go on a cruise on Algoa Bay with Raggy Charters and it felt like we hit the jackpot that day. Whales, dolphins, bait balls, penguins, and the cherry on top, a killer whale.
The cruise was the first opportunity for me to see St Croix Island up close. St Croix Island is home to the largest breeding colony of African penguins in the world. At one stage there were 60 000 individuals on the island, but the population in our bay has dropped down to about 22,000 due to various reasons. The island houses roughly half of the entire world’s population. The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is only found on the southern African coastline and is also called a jackass penguin due to it’s loud, donkey-like bray. Their conservation status is listed as Endangered.
St Croix Island along with Bird Island across the Bay were both utilised for food and supplies since the first Portuguese explorers rounded the Cape in 1488. Both islands were targeted for bird meat by ships passing the bay and it was soon discovered that African penguin eggs were actually a highly tasty treat and became a delicacy. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries egg collecting was so extensive that penguin numbers dropped to a shocking one thousand individuals in 1937. Guano (penguin dung) was also collected from both islands to be used as fertiliser and gun powder until 1955 on St Croix and until as late as 1989 on Bird Island. This was extremely disruptive to the birds but more importantly, it robbed them of important nesting material.
Today the African Penguin is a protected species
Source – Algoa Bay Hope Spot – NMBT website
Cruising Algoa Bay with Raggy Charters is like a luxury lucky packet. You kinda know what you could find, but when you do it like wow in overdrive. As a tourism marketer promoting the Eastern Cape I have spoken about Raggy Charters and promoted what Algoa Bay has to offer for years with so many invites to join them on a cruise. Something just always came up until I got to finally join them on a cruise a little while ago. Our first big wow of the cruise was a pod of Common Dolphins cashing a sardine bait ball. We followed the pod cameras clicking and at times it felt like the boat was going full tilt to keep up.
Common Dolphins (Delphinus Capensis) is the most widespread and abundant of all the dolphin species, and can be found in pods of up to 2 000. They are highly efficient at capturing small shoaling fish such as anchovies, pilchards and krill. Swimming at speeds of up to 60km/h they hunt down their prey and encircle them driving the shoal towards the surface and continuously tightening the circle around them.
And if you’re lucky, you get a shot like this…
Port Elizabeth and Algoa Bay are promoted as the Bottlenose Dolphin capital of the world while St Croix Island has the biggest population of African Penguins in the world. I was lucky to get both species in one photo at St Croix on an outing with Raggy Charters a little while ago.
Bottlenose Capital of the World – It is estimated that a population of over 28 000 individual Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins make use of Algoa Bay and the surrounding ocean making it the biggest concentration of bottlenose dolphins in the world. The bottlenose dolphins occur in groups of between 10 and 400 individuals.
For more information – Bottlenose Dolphion Capital of the World
African Penguins – About 60% of the total global population of the endangered African Penguins live in Algoa Bay, 21 000 on St Croix, and 5 700 on Bird Island. Strange enough there isn’t a mainland population in the Eastern Cape and they only occur on the islands.
For more information – African Penguins