Fishermen worried about ever-dwindling sardine numbers

2014-06-11 00:00

OVER the years sardine fishing along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline has seen a steady decline and local fisherman blame poor fishery governance, which could indirectly have an impact on tourism in the area.

Yesterday, the Sardine Festival for 2014 was launched in Pennington on the KZN South Coast, at an event held at Botha’s House.

Justin Mackrory, CEO of South Coast Tourism, said that the annual sardine run was a boost for the tourism industry in the area.

Over the years the department had managed to capitalise on the sardine run and host a series of events creating the festival.

The Sardine Festival has become a focus of tourism in the area surpassing the lure of Christmas and Easter, drawing an influx of both local and international visitors keen to witness the phenomenon, the South Coast Tourism department said at the launch event.

Further down the coast at Shelly Beach, The Witness tracked local subsistance fishermen, who said that they had witnessed the abundance of sardines over this period become significantly reduced year-on-year.

Anton Gets, a local fisherman and commodore of the Shelly Beach Ski Boat Club, said that when he first witnessed the Sardine Run at the Wild Coast in 1985, there was a charge of R50 to enter the beach and collect sardines, but after two days the beach had become overrun with sardines and the management had requested that the fishermen come to collect the fish for free.

“The sardines beached in their thousands in the space of a week. There was a total abundance of birds and dolphins in the area. The frenzy lasted well into two months after the first sightings of sardines. Over the years the abundance of fish has drastically diminished and you don’t see them any more. We had people calling us, asking for us to notify them when sardines would arrive so they could travel down to witness it,” he said.

Glen Pool, another substance fisherman in the area, said that they had relied on fishing in the area as their prime source of income.

He said that the Sardine Run had become a major income boost over the years as the resale value of the fish was very high.

“The price always varies, depending on the abundance of sardines. Over the years, certain fishermen had been given licences to fish and others had their licences taken away. This has also become a factor which could have led to the diminished abundance of sardines over the years. Fishermen begin fishing in Port Elizabeth and this does not prevent all the fish from reaching the KZN coast but could be seen as a major contributor to the diminished abundance,” he said.

Both Gets and Pool said that fishing was always weather-dependent and that fisherman only fished over 10 days during a month.

“Major scientific research needs to be done so that we have concrete proof of what is leading to the lack of abundance of the sardines during the Sardine Run. While fishermen catch many other fish during the year, the Sardine Runs can be seen as a crucial spare wheel,” Gets said.

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