24 July, 2014 24 July, 2014

A Story About Community – by Ffion Atkins

An entertaining encounter with a local fishwife got Ffion Atkins thinking. ‘A Story About Community’ is her entry into our Write to Surf competition, which has some great prizes up for grabs (see below for details).


A Story About Community – by: Ffion Atkins


This is a story about community. As surfers, we know a bit about that. Go anywhere in the world with the right attitude and you’re hooked up with a place to stay, someone’s lent you a board, you’re being shown some decent spots and meeting some interesting characters along the way. Despite the odd muppet here and there, we consider ourselves a global community. But community exists at all scales and this story is about home, our local community. Looking straight out to sea.

A friend and I had just got out from a surf at Dangers and we stopped at Kalk Bay Harbour to get some fish for dinner. As we walk over to the tables, piled high with stacks of fresh snoek, yellowtail, hottentots, kabeljou and packs of smoked snoek, two ladies call us over.

“Hello ladies, come check out our vis!”


One of them – plump with golden-brown skin and green-green eyes – strides over and calls me out on the holes in my jeans: “Yoooh lady, wat het ons hierso? You’ve got holes in your jeans, man!” She pokes her finger into the hole above my knees and cackles, “Gaaitjies hier, gaaitjies daar” – pointing to the newest hole at the top of my thigh. I feel like the kid at a mother hen meeting. “Waas jou man, why’s he not buying you new jeans?”

I chuckle and get into the groove of the conversation: “Ag, he doesn’t buy me jeans … anyway… sadly things are no longer.’ Her reply sounds as if she’s about to break into song: “Yoooooh lady… moenie worrie nie, I, am a lesbian. Lady, ek kan enige iets doen wat ʼn man kan doen, and better.”

Booming laughter explodes from the group of fishermen and women who have now gathered at the scene. They’re enjoying the performance this character is putting on, and their endeared gaze tells me that they see this sort of humour on a regular basis. Classic.
Green Eyes gives me a wink and big smile, tells me she’s “Only joking, lady.”


We carry on chatting and I mention I stay just five minutes up the road. Her jovial manner lingers, but the twinkle in her green eyes gives way to something more earnest.

She looks me in the eye.

“Lady, please, don’t you have clothes or blankets to give us, ? It’s winter now.”

I feel the mood quieten: “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. You help me, I help you. Snoek for a lekker price , if it costs R20, I’ll give it to you for 15.”

In just a few minutes of clowning around, these women have really got me thinking. Things are tough. But their humour is infectious and I get the feeling that all they’re really saying is, “Just work with us here.”


The fishing community that operates out of Kalk Bay has a history that spans more than 300 years and, despite all turbulent odds, the community remains intact. Towards the end of last year when the reallocations of line-fishing rights took place, many fishers who previously had rights found themselves unlucky this time round.

For the whole of South Africa, 450 fishing rights were to be allocated, but only 300 were distributed. The main reason was to curb fishing efforts and alleviate the impact on depleted stocks – but it was the small-scale and traditional fishers who seemed to lose out.

There was major uproar within the industry over the fishing rights allocation process, seen as illegal and not transparent by the fishers, and has subsequently led to a ‘null and void’ status. The industry is currently in limbo as it waits for amendments to the Marine Living Resources Act to be passed as law, which will place small scale fishing communities, operating out of harbours such as Kalk Bay, as an important part of the industry.


Buying fish from the small-scale fisher, like any small-scale production, is investing back into your community. And you know what you are getting at your local harbour. What is landed at small harbours is caught locally. You aren’t walking into a supermarket and buying barracuda shipped from New Zealand labelled as snoek. Yes, this sadly happens all time – different fish in different disguise.

The fishing industry is complex, highly competitive and can be a dark world, with stories becoming more baffling the bigger the fishing fleet becomes.

Also, bycatch is still a major problem on large-scale fishing vessels and is detrimental to fish stocks. Whereas locally, our fish stocks are well monitored and managed so that only a sustainable yield is fished, keeping stocks healthy for next year’s recruitment. The fish are landed fresh, caught that day or the night before. The size of individual fish and the amount landed are well controlled by teams from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, stationed at harbours who do regular onboard checks as well. Most fish on sale are caught using line-fishing techniques where catch and release is employed and juveniles as well as by-catch are put back.


And even better, let’s not forget “Green Eyes”. Characters like her who sell you your fish are sure to make some over-the-top, potentially inappropriate joke and leave you smiling. Or they could just shout some obscurity at you and, while you may not understand, the interaction is at least entertaining.

We might feel disconnected from the lives of people so reliant upon the sea, perhaps because they aren’t a big part of our daily lives. But as surfers, we’re also reliant upon the sea; be it for our livelihoods, our peace, our physical well- being, our spirituality, whatever. We are all connected. Be a part of your community. Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

If you are going to buy fish, firstly be informed and secondly keep it local. At least for the chuckle, if nothing else.

Check out www.wwfsassi.co.za for more about the subject.


Click here to check out all the entries so far >>


Send your stories to calvin@zigzag.co.za. One submission will be selected every six weeks to appear in Zigzag magazine. The selected submission will also receive a hamper from Billabong. Zigzag retains the right to use any work submitted for the Zag Surf Journo competition on zigzag.co.za as outlined in the rules and terms of the competition. Zigzag reserves the right not to award a published winner in the magazine every six weeks, depending on the quality of entries. Zigzag is not obligated to run any and all entries submitted, either online or in print. Zigzag retains the right to edit all work submitted for brevity and / or clarity.

For the next three issues the Billabong prize hamper includes: 1 x Billabong Wetsuit; 1 x Billabong Boardies; 1 x Billabong Cap; 1 x Von Zipper Sunnies; 1 x Set of Kinetic Racing (KR) fins. After which the hamper will get a shake-up with new product of equal value for the following three issues.



  1. Rhino
    25 July, 2014 at 6:36 am · Reply

    Reminds me of a time at Hout bay fish market. There was a guy there poking and prodding the snoek, eventually commenting “Nee wat, julle snoek is pap!”

    My mate with me at the time mumbled under his breath, loud enough for the fish wives to hear but not old doos, “Die enigste ding wat is is, is sy piel!”

    Needless to say, this created hysterical laughter and when they recovered, we walked away with a discount snoek. Which wasn’t pap at all 🙂

  2. Otto
    25 July, 2014 at 7:04 pm · Reply

    Really, really enjoyed that. Fun and informative all in one – epic read!

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