Paternoster is one of the oldest fishing towns along the West Coast, a place of whitewashed houses, fishing boats, beaches and crayfish. Visitors come here for the tang of sea air, the sound of breakers, and the romance of long walks on the beach.
We had breakfast at Paternoster Lodge, sitting on the stoep that overlooks the business end of the beach. Gulls were squawking, their only competition the locals who strolled past shouting greetings and teasing each other, or the thrum of a diesel engine as a tractor clanked along the road below.
A pair of scruffy mutts adopted us on the beach as we fossicked among broken mussel shells and tide-ripples. Our sunken footprints rapidly filled with water seeping up from underneath and were soon obliterated as if by quicksand.
On our visit a few years ago the crayfish promotion outside the Paternoster Hotel in the main road had more than a whiff of subversion and illegality about it.
A clutch of leather-clad bikers were swapping stories and working on their beer boeps on the verandah. Exposing bald heads and scrawny grey ponytails to the sun, they watched the impromptu informal market that had popped up in the shade of the trees over the road.
There was a buzz of activity around hot tomatoes and tired peaches. Some protein peddlers were brazen, whipping out a fat crayfish and holding it up, feelers waving rhythmically to show how fresh it was.
Others were more anxious about being fined for what was essentially an illicit activity given that many of them were taking crays without the necessary permits or outside the crayfish season, which only runs from November to March/April. Their subtle technique was to raise their hand, palm facing you, and wiggle their fingers in the hope that you could decode the signs hinting at crayfish. Of course, if you turned out to be the crayfish police, they’d deny everything.
On a more recent visit, the crayfish peddling was more understated but it was still there. A few men prowled the main road with crayfish bulging out of supermarket carry bags. Since this was almost two months before the start of the crayfish season, we knew they were contraband.
So here’s my advice.
- Never buy crayfish outside the season (November to March/April).
- In season, rather buy it at the fish market than from a hawker on the street.
- If you’re unsure whether a crayfish is legal, you have the right to ask to see the commercial or small-scale licence.
- Note that crayfish (rock lobster) is now red-listed by the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI). This means you shouldn't buy them because the population is not sustainable.