Where have all the fish gone? This seems to be a common question in recent years. To quote one of the world’s famous fishery scientists, Dr Daniel Pauly, the answer is “We have eaten them!”
The large fishes, the length of a grown man, gracing notice boards at angling clubs and holiday resorts along the South African coast are a thing of the past. Rarely do anglers catch these big fish anymore that were still fairly common up until a few decades ago.
Consider the popular dusky kob or kabeljou, Argyrosomus japonicus, as an example. These iconic angling fish have seen the brunt of angling pressure and scientists estimate that the spawning
population has been fished down to very low levels in our waters.
How do they know this? Well it has been determined from a number of sources including long-term trends in angler’s catches, from various fish tagging programmes involving recreational anglers, from scientific surveys of fish abundance and, more recently, from a genetic study on dusky kob collected from around the South African coastline.
Based on these studies scientists now realise that the dusky kob population is down to between 1-4% of its pristine level and the genes show that there may be less than 1000 large breeding adults
that are responsible for the current fish population. This means the kob population is in dire straits.
Many of our coastal fishes suffer a similar plight with rampant ignoring of bag and size limits, poor angler education and poaching depriving South Africans of their natural heritage.
The largest fish have been systematically removed from years of over-fishing.