Every year we are assaulted with images of the ‘petering out’ of the annual sardine run along the KZN coast when the sardines come close inshore and excited Kwazulians/Natalians/Last Outpostians rush into the water from their beaches with all manner of nets and buckets to scoop up sardines for breakfast, lunch and supper.
This annual event attracts thousands of international and local tourists who come to see and experience this phenomenon.
Most people are not aware though that the sardine run also takes place in Algoa Bay. The sardines gather here from late February in large numbers to feed ahead of the big winter storms that open up a ‘gap’ into the Aghullas Current which allows them to run northwards along the South African coast past the magnificent Transkei and along the Kwazulu Natal coastline.
Whilst the sardines are fattening up and waiting for the gap along the East Cape Coast and in Algoa Bay the commercial fishing boats put to sea and hunt the sardines down, hauling tons of them into their holds to be used for bait, food supplements, animal food and human consumption.
On the doorstep of Port Elizabeth a daily drama takes place in Algoa Bay which is home to 7 different dolphin and whale species. Sardines are an essential food to dolphins, whales and seals as well as our Gannet colony on Bird Island and the Penguins. All these animals can only survive if significant numbers of sardines stay available to them in large enough numbers.
Sardine run operator, Rainer Schimpf from Dive Expert Tours says; “Marine awarness in South Africa and specifically Port Elizabeth needs to grow, we have a rich heritage in Algoa Bay which should be accessible for sustainable eco tourism and responsible business opportunities. Responsible fishing is part of this as well. ‘Dirty’ and polluting industries should be made conscious that a lot is at stake in Algoa Bay. Exploring Algoa Bay with proper Eco Tourism and the marketing thereof has more positive effects on job creation and sustainability than any other option. Wrong industrial decisions made now without the wisdom and input of environmental thinkers and experts will ensure a decrease in our marine wildlife which are unique world wide.”
Algoa Bay is unique in that it is one of the few marine environments worldwide that offers the Eco Tourist whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, gannets, sharks and whale sharks almost year round. SANPARKS promote the Big 7 and tour operators need to capitalise on this.
On a recent trip into the bay to see sardines with Dive Expert Tours a film crew was able to dive next to the Kalahari sardine fishing boat and see seals and dolphins feeding on the ‘unlucky’ sardines that escaped the net. Pleasing to see was that there appered to be no ‘other species’ caught by the fishing boat as the net was drawn closer and a selective suction device deployed to get the sardines only into the net. Kudos to the fishing industry for the responsible manner in which they were harvesting. Once again Marine and Coastal Management were conspicuous by their presence as they checked the boats for compliance. One gets the sense that something positive is happening at sea.
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