African Journal of Marine Science

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Biological characteristics of sardine caught by the beach-seine fishery during the KwaZulu-Natal sardine run

CD van der Lingen, M Hendricks, MD Durholtz, G Wessels, C Mtengwane


Catches of sardine Sardinops sagax made by the beach-seine fishery off the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) coast during the annual winter sardine run have been sampled intermittently since 1951, and a substantial amount of data on various biological characteristics of sardine caught off KZN now exists. Information on length frequency distributions, mean caudal length (CL), length–mass relationships, condition factor (CF), age distributions, sex ratio, gonad maturity and diet have been collated and are presented in this paper. Sardine caught off the KZN coast during the past six decades had a mean CL of 17.4 cm (SD 2.0) and have shown a significant increasing trend in mean CL through time; had substantially lower mass-at-length compared to fish that did not participate in the sardine run; have shown two distinct periods of decrease in CF between 1979 and 2005; ranged in age from 1 to 7 years but were numerically dominated by younger fish (1-, 2- or 3-year-olds); had a 1:1 sex ratio and gonads that were predominantly actively developing and undergoing maturation and vitellogenesis; and had a diet dominated by zooplankton, primarily calanoid and harpactacoid copepods and fish eggs. These characteristics, together with some  information on meristic and morphological characteristics of sardine caught off KZN, are compared to characteristics of sardine from  elsewhere off South Africa’s coast to assess the possibility that the former may be a distinct stock or a functionally discrete adult assemblage. Significant differences in characteristics such as CF, vertebral count and body shape were found, supporting the hypothesis that KZN sardine represent a distinct stock or a functionally discrete adult assemblage. However, small sample sizes and plausible alternative explanations for these differences weaken, but do not invalidate, this hypothesis, and further work is needed to answer this question.

Keywords: beach-seine, biological characteristics, sardine run, Sardinops sagax, stock structure

African Journal of Marine Science 2010, 32(2): 309–330
AJOL African Journals Online