Tow large seals bask in the wintry sunshine outside Live Bait restaurant.

Two large seals bask in the wintry sunshine outside Live Bait restaurant.

One of our first stops in Cape Town is always a fish and chip lunch at Live Bait in Kalk Bay harbour. Always fresh, always good, always great seal watching and after lunch, a short stroll around the fishing boats which will have brought their morning catches in for the market.

It got me thinking about the relationship between the seals and the fishermen….

During the first half of the year, Kalk Bay Harbour on Cape Town’s southern peninsula is home to commercial Rock Lobster or crayfish fishing boats, which they use as a base to drop and collect their crayfish traps along the coast line. Discarded box bands from their bait packaging end up in the sea and around seals’ necks.

We watched this baby seal slide off for a swim while Mommy-seal snoozed.

We watched this baby seal slide off for a swim while Mommy-seal snoozed.

The relationship between fisherman and seal is generally not a good one. Seals are blamed for fishermen losing fish whilst at sea, as human and animal compete for the same resource. Local fishermen describe the seal’s actions as “stealing” the fish they are trying to catch to earn a living.

Third generation Kalk Bay fisherman Cassiem Elmazon, who started fishing when he was fourteen, describes the relationship between seal and fisherman: “They make you very cross. Especially when you’re catching snoek, they just take the snoek off your line. It’s R70 ($7) for a snoek, and they just take it. Some fishermen kill them, they shoot them with a gun.” Cassiem looks down and shakes his head.

“Seals and fishermen are just not friends.” explains Anel Nortier, Chief Marine Conservation Inspector from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries based at Kalk Bay Harbour. “Often the seals don’t even eat the whole fish. They just bite into it, play with it and then move on to the next one.” Under South African legislation, seals are protected animals, but Nortier says that trying to convince a fisherman to cut the box bands or buy bait in bags to save a seal is difficult. “Most fishermen don’t have any pity for an injured seal. During coastal patrols we’ve seen dead seals washed up on the beach with bullet holes,” says Nortier.


The seals in and around the harbour are residents. They are fed by tourists and the fish cleaners who discard the leftovers into the sea in and around the harbour. “They shouldn’t be here, they should be living on Seal Island,” says Nortier, referring to the small island off the False Bay coastline, a well-known hunting ground and viewing site for Great White sharks. The seals have become habituated; they sleep on the harbour walkways and are fed daily. “It’s easy living for the seals, but for their own good they shouldn’t live here,” says Nortier.


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