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Fishing for History on the West Coast

Fishing for History on the West Coast
The history of fishing on the West Coast stretches back a long way. Marianne Heron shares a little insight…

As far back as 1658 free burgers were granted licences to fish at Saldanha. Curious to know the story about the rich harvest of the sea there I fantasized about hearing yarns from old sea dogs. The trouble with old sea dogs, though, is that they tend to be unavailable at sea or they move away and become landlubbers.

Then I discovered the best way to get a sense of the glory days of West Coast fishing, it’s at the South African Fisheries Museum at Laaiplek in Velddrift.

It’s a story that moves from whaling, through WW2, when, with many away fighting the industry switched to fishing sharks to make vitamin A supplements from the oil in their livers. The post war food shortages led to boom years for the West Coast fishing fleets and they netted fish destined to be canned – at one point there were 17 canning factories on the West Coast.

The museum has a story of its own, like the fishing boats whose story it tells it sailed away from its original base in Cape Town where it was launched on the Waterfront in 1986 during the Cape Town Festival before it was moved to Hout Bay where it remained until 2009.

Then, thanks to the efforts of the Velddrif Heritage Society it found a new home in Laaiplek where after heroic volunteer efforts to sort and display the material and celebrate the West Coast’s fishing heritage, it opened its doors at the end of 2009.

It is now offered as part of a popular tour which takes in Bokkom Laan, and the harbour: a veritable feast of fishing history.

Words: Marianne Heron

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