Formal employment is hard to find in the township, a clutch of small government homes and metal shacks at the end of a dirt track, and many men have begun diving for abalone, residents said.
“The work is very dangerous, but the men do it for the money,” said a local priest, Jonathan Xama. “In church we pray for their safety. This is not a good job for anybody, and we also pray that they find something better.”
Within a month of the September shark attack, two more local divers, Bradley Fick and Waylon Love, had drowned, one at Dyer Island and one in the nearby fishing community of Hawston. Both had recently begun using scuba equipment without proper training, friends and family said, in order to access abalone on deeper reefs.
In February, Raeburn Jansson died trying to poach abalone in the waters off Cape Town. His widow told local news media that he was trying to earn money to fend off the threat of the couple’s four children being taken by social services.
Divers at the start of the poaching supply chain say they earn around $15 a pound of shucked meat.
A decent harvest of 35 pounds can bring $525, almost double South Africa’s monthly minimum wage, $295. When abalone was more abundant, it was common for divers to harvest 150 pounds or more on a single diving trip.
For commercial divers working for legal abalone fisheries, the work is done under safer conditions, for less pay.
Once harvested, the shellfish enters a network of buyers and middlemen, and is predominantly shipped to Hong Kong, where dried South African abalone is worth over $200 a pound, meaning large profits for those further up the supply chain.