By Jacqueline Dowling
‘Said the whiting to the snail; there’s a lobster close behind me and he’s treading on my tail.’ At least, I think it was a lobster. On reading this delightful poem to our grandson recently, a blog popped up – not about lobsters, but their smaller cousins, the shy and hideously overpriced crayfish.
Crayfish, in the event of a red tide, leave the sea and scramble onto the beach in search of oxygen: Fact.
Crayfish, in the event of an oversupply of carbon monoxide, leave their place of confinement in search of oxygen: Fact.
Here’s how it works. Along the Cape’s southern coast, there’s a lucrative and highly illegal chain of crayfish and abalone poaching. All you need is darkness, a boat, preferably of the ski variety, a long length of hosepipe, one compressor, a couple of spades and underwater torches, rope and sacks, a diver and two mates back on deck.
Climb into wetsuit, attach spades, torches and weight belt to same, put one end of the hosepipe in mouth, and fall backwards into the water. At which stage the compressor roars into life, assuring the diver of life everlasting – for the time being anyway. Diligent use of the spade ensures a good haul of abalone, chop chop. Two sacks later our poacher is back on deck and they’re laughing all the way to the bank. Which is all very well, except for the fact that the ill gotten gains more often than not, are used to make large drug purchases. And the problem doesn’t stop with abalone, nor do the drugs. Crayfish are equally lucrative, but less easy to transport since they can’t be shucked, and vigilant Fisheries officers make life as difficult as possible for the poachers.
There’s limited road access to our coastal town. You can drive through it, with only one turnoff up the valley, or take the rough road behind our house, which links up with the main road anyway. This makes crayfish courier-ing a risky occupation. The crays are usually packed into the boot of a car, hence the carbon-monoxide problem, and the courier puts foot and hopes there are no road blocks en route. And this is how the Crayfish Marathon came about.
On the way into town, a red banger screamed up behind me, revved furiously, hooting to get past. The windows were covered in dark film and the exhaust poured out a volume of black smoke which would have put Beijing’s air problems to shame. I pulled back a little, only to have two G registration cars and a police van overtake me. So I parked up under a tree and waited for the next happening. Didn’t have to wait long. Red banger overshot a large and lethal middelmannetjie outside the school, levitated to an alarming height, boot flew open and dozens of crayfish, of all shapes and sizes, shot out into the road and ran like the clappers away from the traffic. I didn’t stay to watch the next episode, but it was very funny indeed. Or would have been if the implications hadn’t been so serious.
I wonder whether the lobster ever caught up with the whiting and the snail?
Postscript: It was, after all, a walrus, not a lobster – call it licence if you will, but a walrus wouldn’t have suited the story at all, nor would it have fitted into the boot of a car.