How We Gut Snoek in South Africa: A Step-By-Step Guide

Updated on July 13, 2020
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Johnathan Muller is a very inquisitive Capetonian who takes an interest in everything around him. Follow his journey of lifelong learning

Bringing Home the Catch

Snoek is fished almost all year round, mainly off the southern and western coastline of South Africa. Traditionally fishing is done by hand line and the fishing boats are mostly wooden-hulled as can be seen in the picture below.

Off loading the catch
Off loading the catch

Landing the Fish

As seen in the picture below, the Snoek is grabbed by the tail and flung from the boats onto the quay. This often damages to the flesh of the fish. You may notice in some of the pictures the head of the fish is facing backwards. This is because the neck of the Snoek was broken immediately after it was landed on the boat.

Each boat may catch up to 200 snoek per day in good weather conditions.

Fish landed and ready for auction
Fish landed and ready for auction

After the Auction

The fish are usually sold in lots. After the auction the buyer then typically loads the fish onto his Bakkie (pickup).

This fish will now be taken into a community and sold off to individual buyers.

Please refer to the video at the end of the article to get an idea how fish is sold in the community.

Loaded on the pick up and ready to hit the road
Loaded on the pick up and ready to hit the road

Selling and Gutting ... the First Cut

The fish is gutted on the back of the vehicle and is done in a very specific way. This is the most economical way to to gut it.

So let's start:

  1. The best surface is, believe it or not, and old piece of carpet.
  2. Lay the fish down, lengthwise, flat in front of you with the back facing you.
  3. The first cut is almost like an exploratory one along the the length of the back from tail to head and continuing through the head.
  4. It is important to note that the cut is done along the upper part of the dorsal fin.

The first cut
The first cut

The Second Cut

Now, the second cut is bit more aggressive.


  1. With a firmer grip on the handle make the second cut along the same line as the first.
  2. This time cut a little deeper and above the spinal cord. You should now be severing the ribs from the spinal cord and this is the only thing that you're trying to achieve with this.

Gutting Snoek. The second cut
Gutting Snoek. The second cut

Exposing the Gut and Cleaning

This is where we get to the cleaning part.

  1. Continue working your knife deeper into the flesh until you reach the point of the guts being exposed as per the picture below. Keep cutting in the same direction, always.
  2. Take hold of the guts and cut them from the fish. You may want to keep the roe if you like, for eating later.
  3. You may also remove the head if it will make the fish easier to clean and handle.

Gutting Snoek... exposing the guts
Gutting Snoek... exposing the guts

Cleaning the Guts Away

The picture below shows the guts being removed. All traces of blood should be removed.

Cleaning the fish
Cleaning the fish

Opening up Along the Spine

This is a very delicate cut.

  1. This time you start your cut from the head side of the fish.
  2. Run the knife along the spine and take care not to cut through the back of the fish. You want the fish to be in one piece when you're done.

Opening up the spinal area
Opening up the spinal area
The final cut
The final cut

The Last Cut

This last cut is done under the spine but preferably not too close to the bone as this part is a favorite to some people.

Once the fish has been gutted in this way, it is typically cut lengthwise down the center and then cut across to about the width of one's hand. This makes it just the right size for frying, smoking, or making salted fish.

How Snoek is Sold in the Suburbs of Cape Town


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