Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sardine Run

The annual sardine run is a big event along the South Coast of South Africa.   Many millions of sardines travel north from Cape Point, hugging the shore into KZ Natal and ending up near Durban.

As a child I remember seeing crowds of people wading into the shallows to grab fish when the school ran aground.   Sardine season creates a frenzy among fishermen who head out in droves to catch the sardines and the fish chasing them, they call it "sardine fever."   Large predators follow the run (you can often see whales and sharks leaping) as well as flocks of gannets and other sea birds.

The run is usually from May - July but this year, unexpectedly, the sardines have hung around Durban for a long while.  They are still here in August!   Many fishermen are thrilled by this event but the tourist operators down the Golden Mile are upset because all the swimming beaches along the Durban beachfront are closed.   The local paper made a joke that if this continues they will have to call the tourist area "The Silver Mile" instead!

This happens because the Shark Board pulls the shark nets out of the water during the sardine run which makes it impossible to keep swimmers safe from sharks following the run who are present in greater numbers.  All up and down the beach we are seeing NO SWIMMING signs and fishermen lined up with their long surf rods.

This morning, I called the Sardine Hotline - a service set up to monitor the sardine's location and advise fishermen - and they said that the latest catches were at Addington.  I'd seen the fishing boats and the birds on Monday when we were at UShaka so we went down to get a closer look.

At Addington, there were only a few fishing boats on the beach - not much going on - but we noticed a large crowd at the waterline at South Beach.  As we arrived people were running towards the water, wading in and gathering in a tight knot.  Here is the scene that greeted us:

The intriguing crowd at South Beach, notice the long surf
rod in the foreground
All around the beach were pieces of sardine - some were just heads but some were whole.   The smell of slightly decaying fish is familiar to anyone who has walked out a jetty frequented by surf fishermen.   They can't resist leaving fish heads and bits around.

When we approached I saw that people were crowding around a truck of Oceanographic Research Institute, with men wearing UShaka Marine World badges.   With some peering and questioning, I learned that people had 'found' or 'caught' a large skate which was being collected for the aquarium.

They ORI guys lifted the skate into a mesh sling and slid it into a special water tank on the trailer of their truck.

A crowd gathers to watch the ORI guys load a skate
into their holding tank.
Many people were disappointed about the skate.  When people saw the crowd they came running, hoping that the sardines had come ashore and they could scoop some up for dinner.   I spoke with one lady who said "I ran SO FAST when I thought they were sardines but I didn't get any."

This was as close as we came to sardines today.  However, we did see the fishermen catch two fish, about a foot long.   Frost and Wren enjoyed making sand castles and destroying them.  After a while Wren stopped being so anxious about the waves although he did not get his feet wet.  Frost collected wet mud to make mud balls and the boys threw them around until Frost got too wet and we left.

The surf fishermen at South Beach with a view to the bluff.
We did some grocery shopping on the way home and bought lots of awfully wicked nostalgia (for me) food, including peppermint crisps, guava roll, Liquifruit, potato samosas and vegetable curry pies.

I am being called to make tea for the boys so they can have Chockits with it.

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