This article first appeared in Times Live and is entitled “A Case for Crayfish”. Here I’ve adapted my original post slightly in order to make it blog-relevant.
Whether braaied in garlic butter, steamed in wine or smothered in a creamy sauce, there’s no question that crayfish is a South African seafood favourite. Although the sepia-toned snapshots taken of the bacchanalia enjoyed in the Seventies and Eighties have since given way to red lists and the removal of crayfish from most menus, the demand for this costly crustacean has not abated.
The increased call for crayfish has seen the numbers of this slow-growing shellfish – particularly that of the West Coast Rock Lobster (Jasus lalandii) drastically decline over the past three decades. Bloated quotas, unscrupulous government deals and illegal fishing have caused the unchecked looting of the West Coast’s red gold – a result that has put Jasus lalandii on the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative’s (SASSI) red list. While aquaculture and marine farming has played a role in feeding the appetite for crayfish and the use of East Coast Rock Lobster (Panulirus homarus rubellus) has aided in alleviating the pressure on Jasus lalandii stocks, the West Coast Rock Lobster has remained firmly on the red list. Food enthusiasts active in the promotion of the consumption of sustainable seafood have lambasted restaurants still serving crayfish, outing eateries on social media and making the public aware that eating crayfish is akin to taboo. But while the drive in promoting sustainable seafood consumption may come from a good place, it’s not necessarily the best approach to the crayfish issue.
Small-scale fishers on the Cape West Coast rely on the crayfish caught during season as a way to earn a livelihood – keeping their families fed and children clothed and in school. When consumers aren’t buying the crayfish, these communities go hungry – resulting in Jasus lalandii’s red list status becoming a socio-economic issue as much as it is an environmental one. Fortunately there is a new way to consciously consume seafood. By focusing on responsibility as working hand-in-hand with sustainability, the Abalobi initiative has succeeded in educating the public about the benefits of supporting small-scale fishing communities on their bottom-up journey towards sustainability. Fishers now collect data, channel their catch through traceable supply chains and highlight issues of illegal fishing in their area.
“Ultimately the (Abalobi) app is there to help small-scale fishermen rebuild their businesses through legally managed quota systems and the traceability and transparency that Abalobi provides. Many red-listed species are labelled so because there is a concern for overfishing including that done by a large informal/illegal sector – pointing to a need to rebuild fisheries with all stakeholders – starting with the fishers themselves. Abalobi aims to rekindle small-scale fishermen as stewards of our oceans – furthering awareness about responsible fishing using low impact methods” says Abalobi CEO Serge Raemaekers.
This manifesto is evident at Wolfgat in Paternoster, where chef-patron Kobus van der Merwe’s signature strandveldkos makes use of kreef purchased from local fishers with permits. Citing the issue with campaigns like Skip The Kreef as not taking into account marginalised fishing communities, Kobus explains that it’s the large commercial fisheries that have in fact plundered crayfish stocks, catching out of season and with a disregard for size and quotas. The proceeds from crayfish caught by small-scale fishers with permits or purchased via Abalobi go directly to socio-economic improvement as well as aiding in the monitoring of crayfish stock levels.
“It’s important that we can once in a while taste kreef that’s been sourced through small-scale fishermen and initiatives like Abalobi that supports both the ecological and the human side of the story” says Kobus.
While this is by no means license to go out and buy up crayfish in abundance, it does give would-be crayfish consumers food for thought – rather than look at what you’re eating, concentrate on who caught it.
Purchased from fishers on Paternoster beach, our kreef embodied the aforementioned concept – a detail that made them ultimately more delicious. Guests again of the beautiful Dunstone Beach House in nearby Jacobsbaai, we enjoyed a proper Weskus crayfish braai, my garlicky kapokbos butter increasing the local flavour and making for a memorable evening of food, wine and friends.
Whole Braaied Crayfish with Kapokbos Butter
Kapokbos or wild rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus) grows in abundance along the Cape West Coast and lends a gentle fragrance and savoury flavour to garlic butter.
Prep time: 20 mins /Cook time: 20 mins /Serves: 4
You will need:
- 4 large crayfish
- 250g salted butter
- 2 sprigs of kapokbos or rosemary, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly smashed
- 1-2 chillies, finely chopped
- Coarse ground sea salt to taste
Despatch the crayfish either with a sharp blade to the head or drowning them in fresh water. Split each crayfish lengthways down the body and scoop out and remove the alimentary canal from the tail. One can also scoop out the stomach sac and the porridgy yellow viscera in the head – although some folks find this a particular treat.
Combine all the butter ingredients in a small saucepan and place on the braai grid over the coals to warm through. When bubbling, baste the crayfish liberally in the butter, cooking them flesh-side down over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned. Move the grid to a medium to low heat and continue to cook the crayfish – now turned over on to their shells – for a further 15 minutes, not forgetting to baste continuously. Serve the crayfish immediately with a flinty West Coast white like Fryer’s Cove Bamboes Bay Sauvignon Blanc.