The sardine run has arrived at the Two Oceans Aquarium. A large shoal of sardines (pilchards) was introduced into the I&J Ocean Exhibit on Friday 1 July 2016. The silvery shoal has transfixed staff and visitors alike with its shimmering underwater ballet.

Photo by Geoff Spiby

The adage “safety in numbers” has never been so apt. The sardines form a tight ball to protect themselves against potential predators in the exhibit which include yellowfin tuna, dusky kob and striped bonito. When the larger fish approach the shoal, the silvery fish move in the opposite direction in a single ribbon-like motion. Should an individual become separated from the shoal, it runs the risk of becoming a snack for one of the predators.

“‘Watching the way the sardines move is like poetry in motion,” Two Oceans Aquarium Communications & Sustainability Manager Helen Lockhart. “We would love to have them on display permanently as they are so beautiful to watch. The other inhabitants of the I&J Ocean Exhibit would also be pleased as the sardines are such tasty snacks for them!”

Photo by Geoff Spiby

This breathtaking spectacle will be on display for a limited time only - make sure you visit us within the next couple of weeks to get an eyeful. 

The sardines were donated to the Aquarium by the Santa Monica, a tuna fishing vessel that uses live sardines as bait. Using seine nets, the crew collects shoals of sardines and keeps them alive in the ship’s hull. They then pump live pilchards into the surrounding water to attract tuna to the side of the boat. As soon as there are sufficient numbers of tuna close to the boat, the crew switch to spraying jets of water onto the surface of the ocean which sustain the tuna’s interest for a while. The tuna are then caught on baited hooks on short lines attached to bamboo poles, hence the term "pole-caught tuna".

These sardines will be on display for a limited time only! Make sure you come and have a look before they are gone. Photo by Geoff Spiby

This fishing method is probably one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable methods. It is highly selective and targets exclusively yellowfin and longfin tuna. There is no by-catch as in other methods such as longlining, which kills thousands of animals not targeted by the fishery. These animals, including seabirds, turtles, dolphins and sharks, are thrown back into the ocean, either dying or already dead.

Photo by Geoff Spiby

Because pole-fishing is such a highly selective method with no bycatch issues, yellowfin tuna caught in this manner is recommended as a sustainable seafood choice by the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI). SASSI aims to reduce the decline of fish populations by informing consumers about sustainable choices which they can make when ordering, or purchasing seafood. SASSI has developed a Consumers’ Seafood Pocket Guide which divides seafood into three categories (Green, Orange and Red) according to the current population status of the species, the fishing methods used to catch the particular fish and the impact of these methods on the environment. 

Photo by Geoff Spiby

Seafood on the Green List is recommended as a good choice as these species are from relatively healthy populations and can sustain current fishing pressure. The Green List includes South African pole-caught yellowfin tuna, sardines, yellowtail and MSC-certifed hake. The orange category indicates those species which are seriously overexploited and in need of recovery (e.g. red roman and kingklip), or where the fishery of the species has serious bycatch or other environmental impacts (such as locally trawled prawns). Species listed on the Red List, including well-known species such as galjoen, white steenbras and white musselcracker, are illegal to buy or sell in South Africa.

Photo by Geoff Spiby

Seafood lovers are encouraged to ask questions when they purchase seafood and so encourage retailers to comply with regulations that are in place to ensure a sustainable seafood source into the future. By supporting SASSI and making informed choices, consumers can have a direct and positive influence on the health and productivity of fish populations in the future.  To obtain a Consumer Seafood Pocket Guide and more information about SASSI log on to www.wwf.org.za/sassi or visit the Two Oceans Aquarium. 

Photo by Geoff Spiby
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