A Seychelles tradition survives with fisherman John

Fisherman John with conch (Photo: Christine Larose)

A bugle-like monotone sound permeates the early morning air of the local village street. The repeated sound emanates from a large conch shell with a hole pierced through the shell wall and can be heard for hundreds of metres from the source. Obeying the laws of physics, the volume of the sound increases as the source approaches, informing potential buyers that now is the time to emerge from the house to examine what the sound announces. And then we see fisherman John with his lips pressed against the conch shell as he makes another announcement that he has fish to sell.

Artisanal fishing in the 1970s, small boat, small sail (Photo: Chris Feare)

John’s weathered face betrays many years at sea hunting down locally caught fish from a small boat. Over the years, the boats of artisanal fishermen have changed greatly. Formerly powered by strong-armed men yielding heavy oars or a small sail, and with minimal navigation aids, today’s boats are larger, powered by inboard engines and locate fishing grounds using the latest electronic wizardry. But they still often use flocks of seabirds to locate shoals of fish!. They also carry ice to keep the catch cool, whereas in earlier days caught fish were kept cool by covering them with wet gunny bags or under leaves.

Larger fishing boats with all mod cons, Bel Ombre, Mahe (Photo: Christine Larose)

But old methods of selling the catch remain largely unchanged. Roadside stalls, often little more than fish laid out on wooden pallets (which have replaced the coconut leaves used earlier), are found everywhere long Mahe’s coasts but fisherman John targets people who live a bit further inland and takes his fish to them. The sound of the conch attracts potential buyers, who come out on to the street to examine the fish and make their choice. Modernity has hit the

Modern small fishing boats, Anse Forbans, Mahe (Photo: Christine Larose)

inland fish market though. Whereas fish used to be sold from ox-carts or even from bicycles, John now offers his catch from the back of a pick-up, but the cover of wet hessian or palm leaves continues to be used to shelter the fish from the hot sun.

Although imported and take-away foods are now popular in Seychelles, fish remains a staple and favoured food among Seychellois. The sound of the conch is an increasingly rare example of an older traditional lifestyle – infinitely more pleasurable than noise of modern-day traffic with its screeching bus brakes and unpleasantly loud music!

Some of Fisherman John’s catch (Photo: Christine Larose)

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