Sardine Run Ban? (2021)

I, the sometimes contrarian, have been meaning to comment on a number of Fisheries related matters for a while, and finally got started due to a CNN news slot which showed a young SA scientist talking about the need for SA to look after their Commercial fish stocks. In this she was quite right, but failed to mention our overwhelming problem of a more or less dysfunctional Government Department of Sea Fisheries, being part of the Ministry of Environment and Fisheries. Kelly (I didn’t catch her surname) then went on to describe eloquently the magnificence of the annual KwaZulu Natal Sardine run, described as “the greatest shoal on earth.” This is hardly true, of course, except that it probably is, in terms of a marine spectacle frequently visible so close inshore that people from all over the world used to come to South Coast of that province to experience the phenomenon. Therefore, it is as important a tourist attraction in its own way, as, say, a visit to a game reserve, and I am sure after Covid they will be back again.

It then appeared that she and other scientists were motivating the need to protect it, I presume by banning fishing from the coast or boat during the run. Of course, people will tell you it does not happen every year, but in fact it does. It is an annual spawning migration, which can progress, dependant on weather, current, wind, and temperature, as far north as Richards Bay, or end in Transkei. It is when cooler inshore temperatures prevail that it becomes available as a public spectacle, otherwise remains offshore. This winter everything was right and it was spectacular.

However what would banning fishing for the sardines and accompanying gamefish and sharks along the Natal coast achieve. Scientists should motivate actions to be taken, when there is solid data to back up their theories, and not make public statements that they believe some of the public might want to hear. It is mostly sharks that the recreational fisherman land, and 95% plus of these are returned to the water. There are some 20 active trek-net licences used, and the small quantity of Sardine landed is insignificant out of a resource of many tens of thousand, if not in the hundreds of thousand tons. ORI probably know what the landings are. Without the excitement of the trek-netters, who create both jobs and cheap food, the spectacle would be substantially reduced.

I am not a scientist, but have had the fisheries sciences as my hobby my whole life, and fished Sardine commercially as a purse-seine skipper for a large part of it. There are possibly as many as five distinct resources of Sardine/Pilchard (Sardinops sagax) along our and Namibia’s coastlines. In my youth, they were all thought to be one, and I was the first to postulate that this probably was wrong. The northern Namibian resource stretched from just north of Baios de Tigres at the southern end of Angola to south of Walvis Bay Then there was a much smaller resource from Hollams Bird Island to south of the Orange River. I do not know whether this ever got identified as a separate resource, or simply a satellite of the main Namibian resource in times of plenty. There was no DNA information in those days. Those times have passed, though, with correct management and controls, could undoubtedly return, unless nature seriously interferes. Then we have a south western resource from Lamberts Bay to Gansbaai, a south eastern resource (Agulhas Banks) from Gansbaai to Mosselbaai, and lastly the Port Elizabeth resource, which gives rise to the Natal sardine run. The validity of all of these must now have been determined by DNA testing, with which I am no longer up to date.

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