Their scientific name is Chelon richardsonii, known to the rest of the world as mullets. But here on the West Coast, they’re harders – precursors to bokkoms. And this is the story of a couple who’ve made a life out of all things bokkom.
When the bone-white moon still hangs above the prostrate sea, it’s time for Spinnekop Theart and son Heinrich to head out in their bakkie (boat). For Spinnekop the fishing life satisfies a hunger: firing up the engine, checking the gear one last time and slipping into the darkness to crest the waves with the anticipation of a great catch in store. There’s method to this night-time madness. The harders are running.
They head for the trekke as the locals call it – areas where their gill nets can be cast without snagging rocks. Skotteltrek, Rooirif, Ou Gat and Bakenbos are the prime hubs. Here, they shoot their nets in dawn’s half-light, paying out the right amount of warp for the water depth. “Hauling the nets is always accompanied by some trepidation. Have we hit pay dirt?” Spinnekop said.
Back on dry land in Velddrif, the seagulls mewl and swoop as the fish is washed repeatedly. “Otherwise you get the rubbish bokkoms that make your mouth itch,” he explained. Then the processing starts. “We fill a large concrete tank with a strong pickle of coarse salt and water, place a layer of harders inside, stir the pickle well and add the next layer of harders. We repeat the process until the tank is full. For good measure, the top gets a final thick layer of salt. To prevent spoilage, we place a weighted wooden press on the fish the following day to squeeze out the gas and fluids.”
On day three, wife Annalise starts working magic at Bokkomhuis, her little factory in Bokkomlaan. She and helper Lisa Engelbrecht remove the harders and string them up in shiny necklaces of 10 on a rope. The bunches are then dipped in fresh water a few times after which they hang on scaffolds to dry for four days to two weeks, depending on season.
Being the added-value component in the bokkom chain, Annalise is kept busy as a beaver packaging the dried West Coast delicacies. She has an array of formats up her sleeve: whole; cut into small snack strips; smoked; pickled in oil with chillies or garlic; and minced into powder for use in breads and scones. She also creates lovely gift packs.
It’s small wonder that Velddrif is the world’s official bokkom capital: the harders run just off the coast at next-door neighbour Laaiplek; weather conditions offer ideal drying conditions; it has access to mega-tons of sea salt from massive salt pans; and there’s plenty fresh water from the Berg river.
Like his grandfather and father before him, Spinnekop is a fisherman – hook, line and sinker. When not bagging harders from November till January, he works on the pelagic fishing boats catching anchovies, sardines and redeye. Yes, a fisherman’s life is no piece of cake, but hardships aside, just think about it: daily, you do what you love on the sorcerous glamour of the lead-blue ocean. What more do you want?
Both Spinnekop and Annalise embrace the fisherman’s life. Annalise said, “While it’s an industry filled with uncertainty, the atmosphere of mingled jollity and earnestness among fishing folk is infectious and addictive. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
To relax, I knit (Annalise), watch TV (Spinnekop)
Pet place on the West Coast for both is home town, Laaiplek
Best restaurant for both is the Riviera Hotel in Velddrif
I love eating lekker pasta (Annalise), fish on the braai (Spinnekop)
My signature drink is cappuccino (Annalise), beer (Spinnekop)
On TV I enjoy watching Suidooster (Annalise), Animal Planet (Spinnekop)