Working towards a more compassionate world through education and advocacy
Increasing our Compassionate Footprint
"Then came my first trip - from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, on board the Desert Diamond, a massive 124 metre trawler operating about 12 nautical miles off the coast. It is a mid-water pelagic trawler with an on-board fish meal factory in the pakofka (Russian for the Box Room.) I learned to speak a bit of Russian because half the crew was Russian!
"My job was to box the fish that were frozen in the scuffs (refrigerators). But before that, I had to dispose of the garbage on board, like all the empty boxes and plastic wrapping. I did it with another boy. We had to cling onto each other’s clothing as we leaned overboard to stuff the garbage into the big metal incinerator that was attached to the side of the ship at the stern. It was scary and dangerous because one slip and there was no coming back!
There were no life-jackets or ropes to hold us.
"Each trip lasted 4 – 5 weeks. At that time, the fish were plentiful between Mossel Bay and PE. The winches pulled up the net – sometimes two nets a day – filled with 80 tons of fish. As I said, it was a mid-water trawler. That is where the horse mackerel and mackerel fish are found. Horse mackerel are full of bones but they are a delicacy in Central African countries, just like snoek is a delicacy to us here in the Cape.
Continued ... Trawling the high seas
Animal Voice: "You were 17 when you got a job on a deep sea trawler.
That’s a far, far cry from what you are doing now."
“Yes. I got my Matric at Grassy Park High School. I was one of five siblings and we grew up in abject poverty. I swept the classrooms at my school after hours and packed the shelves at Niefie’s Fruit and Veg in order to pay my school fees.
I knew I wanted to study further but when there is no money, you don’t know what you want to study.
"Then a friend’s father who, at the time, was Human Resources Manager for Blue Continent Products (part of the Oceana Group), said he could find me a job on a boat. I still have the piece of paper my mother signed, giving permission for me to be employed on board ship.
"Next thing, I was off to Saldahna to do pre-sea training and first aid.
"Obviously, though, it wasn’t just the horse mackerel we pulled up. We pulled up the whole sea!
"Whatever we pulled up in the net that wasn’t horse mackerel or mackeral, would be disposed of in the on-board fishmeal factory – the ribbon fish, the puffer fish, the baby sharks...
"Have you ever seen a Mola Mola (Sunfish)? That’s a 1000 kg fish! It came up in the net once. They just hooked it in the eye and tossed it back overboard.
"Occasionally there were dolphins in the net – but already dead. Even if they had been alive, there was never any rush to get the non-target species back in the water. They died on deck.
"That massive 124 metre trawler was like a toy in the sea.
I can still hear the deadening thunderous D_O_O_F as the
bow smacked against the sea again after being raised up by the swell. The hull actually shook every time. We trawled even in the worst weather. If the fish-finder said there were fish,
then the weather was irrelevant. Sometimes the 40 kg boxes in which the fish were packed in the hold would topple over as
the ship rolled in heavy seas. Sometimes the waves flooded our cabins.”
Mola Mola (Giant Sunfish) | Photo: Daniel Botelho
Puffer Fish | Photo: Alamy
Then Danie’s father passed away. There was no way Danie could return to shore for his father’s funeral.
“That was a turning point for me. Trawling is a sad life. All the non-target fish go down a shute to be shredded, heated, dried and packed for fish meal for the pet food and livestock industries. About 20% of each haul went into fishmeal – that’s 20 tons a day. We cleaned the sea out!
“The toughest part of all was the packing of the horse mackerel into boxes. We worked in four-hour shifts in minus 30 degrees C in the hold, packing the fish into boxes. You can’t imagine the scale of it. Think of the hold as a huge double-storey house with no inside walls and packed up to the rafters with boxes of horse mackerel, each box weighing 30 – 40 kgs. Even with our boots and gloves, it took its toll on the guys.
"Back in the harbour we had to discharge the ship of all the boxes. You became a zombie. You had feeling for nothing. In the beginning it didn’t seem right that we were taking resources from our waters to feed countries in Central Africa instead of people back home in Mitchell’s Plain. But soon we stopped caring.
We were totally desensitized. I remember the way the Mola Mola was hooked in the eye – so it must have worried me. And I remember the by-catch dying on the deck when they could have been thrown back. But I thought it was ‘normal’ – the way it was.
"The Japanese vessels in our waters are worse off. Their vessels are much smaller -
they trawl in vessels only 20 – 30 metres in length – in mountainous seas and there are always dogs on board.
Now, as you talk to me, I cannot fully believe the overwhelming devastation of it all.”
When Danie returned to Cape Town after one of his trips, he applied for a bursary with the Department of Social Services. Today he is well on his way to achieving his Master’s in Addiction Counselling. He says his father, who was an addict and died too young, would have been proud of him. (Note from Editor: That’s for sure!)
As the number of South Africa’s famous African Penguins dwindles towards extinction,
many scientists blame the fishmeal industry for their demise.
In a Press Statement Sea Shepherd notes: “Today's industrial fishermen operate
multi-million dollar vessels equipped with complex and expensive technological gear designed to hunt down and catch every fish they can find...
"We are feeding fish to cats, pigs, and chickens, and we are sucking tens of thousands of small fish from the sea to feed larger fish raised in cages. House cats are eating more fish than seals; pigs are eating more fish than sharks; and factory-farmed chickens are eating more fish than puffins and albatross.”