Seine netters continue family legacies

Jace Govender with his son, Kioshan.

Jace Govender with his son, Kioshan.

Published Jun 14, 2024


“SOUTH Coast aquaman” Jace Govender is a third-generation seine netter and he is passing the trade to his son, Kioshan, an avid fisherman.

Govender, 51, of Isipingo, a superintendent for beaches for eThekwini Municipality and a lifeguard, said the annual sardine run, which started last week, was their busiest netting time.

He said his grandfather, Soobramoney Govender, who came from India and settled in Durban in the 1940s, fished for a living and passed the skill to his father, Soobramonian Govender, who often took him to the beach as a child.

Govender was born with a disability as a result of polio, and this affected both his legs. He was unable to walk. He spent his days crawling and playing in the sand, while his father fished to provide for their family.

“The crawling and my attempts to walk on the shore was therapy for my legs, as I was building muscle memory and by the age of five, I began to walk. I was healed by the sea and the sea became my passion. I continued training on the beach and I also began fishing with my dad. I became good at fishing and my catches supplemented the income made by my father,” he fondly remembered.

Govender is one of the few seine netters licensed to net sardines in KwaZulu-Natal.

Jace Govender netted the first batch of sardines.

He is also a member of the South African Protea Angling Team and has been a competitive angler for 15 years.

Govender said he eagerly anticipated the sardine run each year, using old techniques passed down from his grandfather and father to predict the arrival of the silver fish.

He added that when he started fishing, he was known as a “poacher”.

“We were known as poachers because we caught more fish than we were supposed to. But I had to poach with my father to put food on the table, so we could go to school and put clothes on our backs. We were allowed to catch a certain limit of fish. With shad, if we caught five, we could feed only ourselves and would not be able to sell anything. The risk was big but we had to take it. If caught, the penalty was a fine or jail,” he said.

To keep his family legacy alive, Govender said he continued netting during the sardine run.

“My grandfather fished using banana boats that they made with ideas brought from India. They netted at Addington Beach, with about 30 boats and about 400 people on the beach netting. They maintained and improved their livelihoods over the years.”

From the age of 11 or so, Govender was on a sardine boat, netting.

Many families had not renewed their licences along the years and, currently, there are four Indian families who have kept and renewed their licences and continue to operate as seine netters.

“Apart from the four families, there are only 13 others in the province, who hold licences to net sardines.”

He said the low number of licence holders was attributed to the large costs needed to net sardines.

“It is difficult to start an operation of this nature. You would need roughly about R2 million to operate. You need a boat and a minimum of three four-wheel-drive vehicles. A boat with an engine and trailer costs around R200 000. The net is R60 000 each. Running costs per day amounts to R15 000, which would include labour, fuel, food and accommodation if needed.

“Apart from this, we also pay a fee per ton of sardines we catch each season back to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. Another factor is that if you don’t know the industry and the sea, netting becomes very dangerous and difficult.”

Govender said that being a professional lifeguard provided him with adequate skills to work with about five tons of sardines in a net and moving in the water.

“It is easy to become trapped under the net. We warn the public to stay safe, while they join us in the sardine frenzy. I have to get into the water to guide the nets and the fish. There are also sharks in the water during this time. But I have learnt to stay safe.”

Govender said that during each sardine run, seine netters in the province netted only about 0.1% of the sardines travelling along the coastline.

“One trawler will eat about 60 to 70 tons of sardines a day, which is what we, netters, take during the whole run.”

He said he was teaching his son the ropes of netting, so that the seine netter legacy would continue for more generations.

“If we don't do it, the Indian heritage of fishing in this country will die.”

In 2010, Govender said there were no sardines along the south coast and since Covid-19, those who had licenses to net sardines had been running at a loss.

“This year, hope for a bumper sardine season and that sardine lovers will once again enjoy the delicacy.”

Faizel Fareed, 48, from Montford in Chatsworth, had also been netting sardines with his father. He was five years old or so when he started.

Sardine netting was also passed on from his grandfather to his father.

Faizel Fareed with his father, Goolam Fareed Essack, who died after his boat capsized while netting sardines on Tuesday morning.

Since 2021, he is the registered license holder for netting and selling sardines.

“We spend a lot of money to get ready. We pay for applications to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. The licence is about R1 100. We pay R671 for a boat licence. To send the boat for tests to determine if it is seaworthy and safety equipment was in check costs another R3 000. We need to pay for and maintain about four vehicles, which need to be land cruisers. The nets cost about R200 000 each to make new ones. The nets get damaged at every run. The fuel cost, for men to help and food is about R10 000 per day.”

In a “good year” Fareed said netters made a profit of up to R100 000, while during a “bad year” they lost the money they invested.

He was proud that his eldest daughter, Fathima Fareed, 18, was learning the ropes and keen to jump onto the boat with him when he netted.

“I believe she would be the first female netter when she nets by herself. She is learning about netting and the sea conditions from Jace. She will continue our family’s legacy.”

Small-scale fisherman, Rishi Prem, 49, from Welbedacht in Chatsworth, has also been fishing since he was little and learnt to fish from dad Prem Ramsewak.

He said he netted sardines with cast nets and he bought and sold sardines from netters.

“We have been doing this for generations. The cost of sardines depends on how much we catch or the prices we buy for it. Sardines start selling at R1 500 per crate and towards the end of the season, it sells for about R50 a crate. I usually sell the sardines at spots along the Higginson Highway and at a busy petrol station in Arena Park in Chatsworth.”

Prem said the sardine run was a bonus for small-scale fishermen.

“It brings a host of other fish like garrick, kingfish, snoek, shad and barracuda. Fishermen are able to make money when they catch these fish as well. When I cast a small net, I catch about 10 crates of sardine. That is a bonus for me for the year. I use this money to spoil my family and take them on holidays.”

Prem’s son, Tashil, 19, is following in his family’s footsteps.