West Coast Rock Lobster are on menus everywhere and perhaps on your own braai if you’ve bought a permit and gone free-diving or put out some lobster pots to catch them. Crayfish or kreef, as it’s known locally, is the pinnacle of seafood in this part of the world, so we thought we’d tell you a little more about them.
Anyone over 12 years old may buy a permit costing just R92 from the Post Office. You may collect a maximum of 4 crayfish at a time for personal use, between 8am and 4pm on weekends and public holidays only, from now until 1 April 2013. The size restriction is no less than 80mm carapace length, which means most of those caught will be male. Females in berry (i.e. carrying orange eggs under their tails) must be returned to the sea immediately, as they are carrying the next generation of slow-growing lobster.
Lobsters grow very slowly; the males take 7-10 years to reach maturity, while females take up to 20 years and they can live up to 50 years (if not caught or poached)! This is no quick harvest and if they’re taken out too soon it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise the consequences!
It’s a species of high conservation value and national importance and requires protection because these lobsters can’t be commercially farmed. This is due to the extraordinary lifecycle they go through before we ever get to see them hiding amongst rocks or on our plate. The female carries the little eggs for 80-90 days when they hatch into tiny spiderlike larvae. These moult and develop long hairy legs and over the next 7 months drift in ocean currents and moult 11 times. The Two Oceans Aquarium say that some may drift as far as South America and back! Finally, the 20mm colourless lobster in its third and final larval stage finds shelter inshore in crevices or under rocks, especially in the tall kelp forests distinctive of the Cape West Coast, and settle in to grow to maturity. They play an important role in the coastal food chain, feeding on mussels, barnacles, sea urchins, perlemoen and starfish. They in turn, are preyed on by seals, octopi and dogsharks, and of course, man !
So long as we only catch and eat lobster within the regulations, you can go ahead and enjoy the summer crayfish season. You will find some in the delicious Cape Malay Shellfish broth on the Dinner Tasting Menu at Signal in Cape Grace, with tortellini, lemongrass and onion crisps. What is your favourite lobster dish?