As I wait for the sardines to make their appearance this year, I started thinking more about the sardine run and what it is all about. Each year during July, we generally get a migration of these tasty baitfish making their way up the KZN South Coast, accompanied by masses of sharks, gannets, dolphins, whales and game fish. The sardines themselves are in fact Southern African pilchards, Sardinops sagax, which form dense shoals and often come in close inshore, and sometimes even wash up on our beaches, much to the delight of fishermen and beach users along the KZN coast. Some years, however, they do not appear and we are left disappointed and wondering what has gone wrong.
There are websites, facebook pages, phone in centres and threads on fishing forums all dedicated to providing the latest information on any movements of sardines along our coastline, and yet still the rumours fly and solid information seems scarce at times. Sources of this information include the KZN Sharks board, dive operators, recreational and commercial fishermen and the general public. Planes and microlights fly along the KZN and Eastern Cape coastline looking for sardine shoals on a daily basis during the peak season. Along with all of the above I have the advantage of being in touch with some of the inshore seine netters, who follow the sardines and make every effort to be on the spot should they make an appearance anywhere along the KZN coastline. Even with all of the above information sources, I have yet to hear of any action along our inshore KZN coast this year at the time of writing, apart from some mixed baitfish off Port Edward in early July and some offshore activity off the Transkei coast. Some years the run just doesn’t seem to happen, and it is interesting to look into what the causes are behind a good year and a bad year with regards to sardines.
I decided to research the sardine run and find out more about this phenomenon in order to better understand it. I spent some time digging around and came away better informed, yet still curious, as there are many contradictory opinions, even amongst respected marine scientists on some aspects of the run. I thought that I would share what I did find out with readers, as it is actually pretty interesting and helps to put some of the myths to bed.