WITH the decline in numbers, many questioned whether this year would host a significant sardine run, which “KwaZulu-Natalians” traditionally look forward to.
But since the weekend sardines have scouted the south coast, with nettings in Pennington , Ramsgate and Scottburgh.
Mike Anderson-Reade, the head of operations at the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board has confirmed the sardine arrival in KZN following a monitoring flight to Port St Johns last Thursday where increased sardine activity between Eastern Cape’s Waterfall Bluff and Port St Johns on Wednesday was sighted.
He mentioned that sardine activity had been spotted in various areas in the Eastern Cape but last week was unsure if, or when, they would hit KZN.
“Its very hard to predict when the sardines will hit KZN.”
“The first small pockets of sardines were spotted in the Kelso area followed by a few smaller ones off Mtwalume and Ifafa.
"These were clearly visible due to the very clear water visibility and there was no predator activity seen with these shoals.
"One of the commercial seine netters managed to net 500 crates at Kelso on during mid-morning. Although the majority of the fish netted were sardines there were other shoaling baitfish species mixed with them, which is common with the early shoals.”
He said the real action, though, was sardine shoals accompanied by thousands of dolphins, Cape gannets and sharks that were clearly visible from just north of Mkhambati, southwards to Umgazana, which is to the south of Port St Johns.
“This was very exciting to see as we have not observed this type of intense activity so near to KZN for a number of years. Should the fish continue northwards it appears that we may be in for one of the better sardine runs seen in a long while,” he said last week.
He said most of the shark safety gear between Hibberdene and Port Edward were removed from the water in anticipation of the arrival of the sardines and associated predators. He added it is highly likely the few remaining beaches that were open for bathing had gear removed.
“The Sharks Board understands the frustration sometimes experienced by some beach users at this time of the year, when conditions are pleasant for bathers but bathing is restricted due to the removal of the shark safety gear. However, we have appealed to the public to understand and support the reasons for these decisions.”
He confirmed that the board will continue to monitor movement of the shoals and manage shark safety gear in consultation with coastal municipalities affected.
Pavitray Pillay of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and programme manager of the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (Sassi) however said there had been a slow and steady decline in the abundance of the species over the decade and had been on Sassi’s “orange” list for the past year.
“Sardines are a complex species and their patterns are not completely understood. They can alternate years of large abundance, with years of low abundance, and this is also reflected in the changes in the annual sardine run.”
Pillay mentioned that apart from over consumption, scientists are not 100% clear on why sardines are in decline but know they are susceptible to environment changes and climate change, which could be a reason for the uncertainty in their status.
They list three categories - green, orange and red - that help consumers understand their status before consuming them.
Green is best choice, orange refers to think twice, whereas red means don’t buy.
Some items on the green list include tuna, anchovy, angelfish, Atlantic mackerel and hottentot.
With sardines on the orange list are harders, east coast sole, cold water prawn and the catface rockcod.
On the red (danger) list are the great white shark, pink prawn, langoustine, Peruvian hake and sawfish.
According to Sassi, 312million kilograms of seafood are consumed a year, of which 70% is hake and sardine.
As a result, Pillay encourages consumers to heed the orange listing and not remove too many sardines from the sea.
“By putting sardines on the orange list, we are indicating that there is concern over the future of this species and we should be careful about how we harvest and consume this fish species. At this stage, the trend is worrying enough for us to have listed it as orange.”
However, she assured consumers that the purse-seine industry and Department of Agricultural Affairs and Fisheries are aware of the decline and is being largely effectively managed.
Listed species are assessed every three years. The one for sardines was conducted last year..
Explaining the role of WWF and Sassi, Pillay said they are a voluntary system that was established 14 years ago to drive change in the local seafood industry.
“The idea is to work closely with suppliers and sellers of seafood, and inform and inspire seafood-loving consumers to make sustainable seafood choices. Through education and awareness, the aim is to shift consumer demand from over-exploited species to more sustainable choices.
“However, just because a species on the Sassi list is red or orange does not necessarily mean it is illegal to catch or sell it (kreef being a case in point).
"However, when we list sardines as orange, we are saying to fishers and others that they should “think twice” about catching and eating this species. The fishery has made adjustments to their catches in effort to manage the decline in the species.”
Asked if the decline would affect consumer pricing, Pillay stated that it had not.
“Most sardines available in major retailers contain both South African and Moroccan species.”