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Ecosystem considerations of the KwaZulu-Natal sardine run

L Hutchings, T Morris, C D van der Lingen, S J Lamberth,A D Connell, S Taljaard & L van Niekerk (2010) Ecosystem considerations of the KwaZulu-Natal sardine run. African Journal of Marine Science, volume 32, Issue 2


The annual winter sardine run along the South African east coast impacts the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) coastal system in a variety of ways. These include ecological impacts, such as enrichment of a largely oligotrophic environment, competition between migrant sardineSardinops sagax, other migrant and resident small pelagic fish species, and interactions with predators, as well as the socio-economic impacts of the sardine run on the local people. Enrichment of KZN coastal waters with organic nitrogen contained within the sardine is compared with alternative sources of nitrogen such as upwelling, river, sewage and stormwater runoff, and groundwater discharge. The sardine run appears to contribute most nitrogen to this system—96 000 t compared to 500–3 300 t for each of the other significant sources at trophic level 2, although upwelling estimates are extremely wide. Nonetheless, the majority of surviving sardine, their young and predators return southwards, suggesting that the nett export of nitrogen to KZN waters during the run is likely to be of a similar order of magnitude as that from other sources. Further, whereas the sardine supply of nitrogen is exclusively during winter, the bulk of the riverine input is in summer, thus ensuring that nitrogen supply in the region is maintained at fairly constant levels throughout the year. Competition for food between small pelagic fish is minimised by resource partitioning, but further dietary data are needed for resident species. Although interactions between sardine and top predators must exist, further studies are needed to confirm links between top predator life cycles and the sardine run. The estimated value of sardine as a tourist spectacle is compared to that from a seasonal beach-seine or boat-based purse-seine fishery for this species. Whereas the estimated value of the sardine as a tourist attraction appears substantially higher than could be derived from catching them, the small-scale beach-seine fishery itself draws tourists and also provides limited, seasonal employment opportunities.