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The History of the South African Fisheries Museum

As told by Jaco Louw – Chairman of the South African Fisheries Museum

Hout Bay photographs by courtesy of Jaco Louw and additional photography by ‘Weskus In Fokus.’

The foundation of the museum was a ten year dream of Dr. Nick Nachenius that came to fruition on 14 July 1992 when it opened its doors at the V & A Waterfront. It was housed in the same building where the ‘Crafter’s Market’ is currently.

Dr. Nick Nachenius spent his entire working life/career in the fishing industry and started working at Marine Products in Laaiplek in 1948. He later became Head of the South African Fisheries Research Institute.

During 1997, the museum was moved to Hout Bay harbour where it was housed in a storage unit in Harbour Road that was owned by Viskor.

The reason for the move was because Dr. Nachenius resided it Hout Bay and meant that he did not have to commute daily to and from the V & A Waterfront any longer. He also felt that the museum would be better off closer to the fishing industry.

My first meeting with the South African Fisheries Museum was in 1994 at the V & A Waterfront as a high school pupil. During my days as a student I visited the museum frequently and soon established a good report with the museum personnel.

I regard Dr. Nachenius as one of my most influential mentors regarding the South African fishing industry.

At my age of 25, Dr. Nachenius had already begun encouraging me to start recording all my knowledge of the fishing industry – sadly something I have not done to date. Dr. Nachenius regularly reminded me of his request with the following words: “boy, please don’t die young, for if you die, the entire history of the fishing industry will be lost forever.”

Time does not wait for anyone and in July 2008, I had a call from Dr. Nachenius notifying me that the Fisheries Museum in Hout Bay was to close its doors for good.

It was then that the doctor offered me the museum in its entirety and also initially indicated that the museum be moved to Gansbaai. Unfortunately at the time no facility could be identified there.

The local Strandveld Museum in Franskraal was also a distinct possibility, but lacked the 120 square meters required to house the museum.

On the lookout for a suitable location/building for the museum, I headed out to Laaiplek to meet with another mentor of mine, Rene Zamudio. At the time he was a retired skipper, originally from Gansbaai that I have also known all my life.

Rene Zamudio also had an incredible knowledge pertaining to the history of the fishing industry. Without any hesitation from his side he shared the same enthusiasm regarding the continued existence of the Fisheries Museum.

Although the Fisheries Museum in Hout Bay was affiliated to the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport of the Western Cape Government, its closure was largely due to the lack of funding, low visitor numbers and the fact that the then Museum Board, consisting of Dr. Nick Nachenius, Ian Campbell and Steve Malherbe, all esteemed gentlemen of the fishing industry, had already reached advanced ages. At the time Dr. Nick Nachenius was already in his 90’s.

Originally the defunct AIF fish factory, now Pelican Harbour, was identified as a possible location, but due to the general condition of the building/structure and in addition the lack of adequate security at the premises, the site was deemed not suitable.

The search continued and it then came to light that the legendary skipper of Laaiplek, Johnnie Eigelaar, until his passing a few years earlier, was a trustee of the Fishery Museum.

On grounds of this Rene Zamudio contacted the then Executive Head of Eigevis, André Eigelaar, regarding the envisaged move of the Fisheries Museum to Laaiplek. André Eigelaar, son of Johnnie Eigelaar, bought into the proposal and arrangements commenced for the move.

One of the buildings, with heritage status, on the premises of the Laaiplek Hotel [belonging to the Eigelaars] was identified and made available to house the new Fisheries Museum.

Many people, such as Rene Zamudio, Robin Ellis and Willie Strohfeldt [all members of the Velddrif Heritage Trust], Jakes Jacobs [Eigevis representative] as well as volunteer members of the Velddrif Heritage Trust were involved behind the scenes.

In preparation for the ‘Groot Trek’ the content of the museum in Hout Bay was packed under the watchful eye of the members of the Velddrif Heritage Trust. Thereafter the packed content was transported by trucks belonging to Marine Products and Eigevis from Hout Bay to Laaiplek at every opportunity fish products were to be delivered to Cape Town.

By July 2009, with everything having been moved from Hout Bay to its new location in Laaiplek, it was time for the enormous task of sorting, cleaning, restoring and setting up of the displays, breathing new life into the museum. This labour of love fell on the shoulders of Felicity Strohfeldt, Robin Ellis, Willie Strohfeldt, Elsje van der Linde, Antoinette Nielmeyer, Rene Zamudio and myself.

Whereas the previous Fisheries Museum was known as ‘Vis As Voedselbron’ [‘Fish as Source of Food’] it was decided by Rene Zamudio and myself that the South African Fisheries Museum would, as its main theme, henceforth largely depict an overview of the fishing history of the Weskus.

In the summer of 2009 on 15 December, the South African Fisheries Museum officially opened its doors to the public. The first meeting of the new Museum Board was held in June 2010 and consisted of the following board members: [the late] Rene Zamudio [Chairman], Willie Strohfeldt [Secretary], Felicity Strohfeldt [Curator], the late Robin Ellis [Velddrif Heritage Trust], Jakes Jacobs [Eigevis] and Elsje van der Linde [Friend of the Museum.] During a board meeting in June 2014, I was nominated as a Board Member and being the youngest was appointed as Vice-Chairman and in January 2016, I took over the reigns as Chairman from Rene Zamudio.

During 2016, with the unprecedented rate at which the number of exhibits accrued, the Eigevis Group made a second building [also a building with heritage status] available to the museum.

The South African Fisheries Museum has initiated numerous local projects in the Laaiplek/Velddrif community such as the ‘Erfenis Makietie Fees’ – the only festival held in Laaiplek and was organized by Felicity Strohfeldt, as the curator of the South African Fisheries Museum, to celebrate the unique Weskus heritage, while also  supplementing revenue for the museum.

The eager and unique management style of the Management Committee, with its dedicated museum culture, in combination with the Friends of the Museum, consisting of a group of incredible volunteers, the South African Fisheries Museum has in a short space of time gone from strength-to-strength managing to receive numerous accolades and awards for excellence from various organizations.

The South African Fisheries Museum follows strict Covid-19 protocol and is open for visitors during the week as well as on Saturdays. Special tours groups can be arranged on condition that prior arrangements are made with the museum.

For more information, contact Felicity Strohfeldt at the museum on: 022 783 2531 [082 849 9251] or by email at:        seaquiz@mweb.co.za


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