In a previous blog I talked about tackling the rate of non-compliance among recreational anglers to the various regulations put in place by DAFF. You can read about it HERE if you don't know what I'm talking about. During these covert observations (spying on fishermen), I noticed quite a bit of illegal activity, yet sometimes a seemingly honest respondent that admitted to a violation I did not necessarily witness, did not acknowledge the violation I did witness. It didn't make sense to me that they would admit to one and not another. I thought perhaps it had to do with the person thinking one violation was more severe than another on the socially acceptable spectrum or that they didn't want to admit to multiple violations. Then the realisation set in that maybe the reason was less sinister and that the astounding amount of undersized blacktail being taken and "lied" about was more to do with ignorance than intent.
This got me wondering what else fishermen might not really know about the recreational fishery. So I decided to conduct a survey of fishermen (both experienced and inexperienced) online and in-person to figure out just how much knowledge anglers have towards fish identification and regulations. Here's the link to DAFF REGULATIONS since I know you are going to want to fact-check me once we get into the results.
Most of the questions in the quiz (sneaky way to survey) revolved around knowledge about the regulations specific to recreational anglers that fish the coastline and estuaries. These involved questions about permits and permit conditions, size limits for specific species, closed seasons, prohibited species, bag limits and even the minor equipment limitations.
One of the questions about permit conditions contained some tricky wording that maybe some people missed, but the following question: "How many different DAFF permits do you need to purchase if you want to fish for stumpnose from a pier, using mussels?" resulted in nearly 60% of anglers answering incorrectly. One of the multiple choice answers included was "only 1 if the mussels were purchased from a tackle shop..." This answer was chosen by 47% of anglers. Since it has recently become my existential purpose to speak to and learn from fisherman, this response did not come as a surprise to me as I often encountered conflicting comments about permits and conditions. The correct answer is TWO permits. One to participate in recreational angling and another to use mussels (regardless of their source). To be in possession of mussels, oysters, red baits etc., you MUST have an additional bait collection permit. Another question posed about permits was with regard to a fictional grace period of 21 days after you permit expires in which you may still use it. This idea came from car registrations and DOES NOT APPLY to recreational fishing permits.
An Important regulation in the recreational fishery is one that allows various fish species to reach sexual maturity before it can be permanently removed from an ecosystem. Size limits have been put in place to protect the most vulnerable species along the South African coastline. As previously mentioned, I witnessed several fishermen keep undersized blacktail (dassie) and then lie about it. After reaching the anecdotal conclusion that this was more of a knowledge issue, I set out to prove it by introducing a question about the size limit for blacktail. Keep in mind it was a multiple guess (choice) question so there's a possibility that a few people deduced the correct answer without actually knowing it. The correct size limit for blacktail is 20cm. A number they struggle to reach these days, possibly due to the fact that roughly 50% of anglers answered incorrectly. A slightly more difficult question about a size limit that varies based on you coastal location and fishing method (shore or boat) had a much higher ratio of correct answers at 64%. This question asked about the limit for a Kob (Argyrosomus spp.) caught from the shore in Port St. Johns. Kob are incredibly vulnerable to the pressures of recreational fishing so it is a relief that more people actually know the regulation, although the remaining 36% stated a size limit that was smaller or that there was not one (2.5%). This is of course only useful if anglers can correctly identify a Kob (more on that later).
Bag limits are another regulation significant in ensuring the sustainability of South Africa's recreational fishery. There is a general daily limit to the amount of total fish you may catch in a day as well as some very important species specific regulations. First off, quiz participants did not do so well in identifying the amount of sharks you may keep per day. 57% thought that you may only keep/kill one shark total per day. While this definitely SHOULD be the case, current regulations allow for the consumption of one shark/ray/skate per species per day, not exceeding the total bag limit of 10 fish per day max that 72% of participants know about (but still 28% don't know about!). But do bag limits actually matter if you cant match the bag limit to the identification of the fish you are catching?
Only 9.5% of participants answered this question correctly. It's a difficult question as you had to not only be able to identify the fish, but also know the different bag limits for each. Especially difficult is distinguishing the difference between an Juvenile and Adult Englishman (we're talking about the fish, although with their rugby fans it can sometimes be even more difficult). 64% correctly identified a bag limit of 1 for the adult englishman, while only 40% correctly identified it for the juvenile (this species is also bound by a size limit of 40 cm which should prevent you from having to worry about a bag limit for a juvenile... if you can identify it). Only 30% correctly identified the bag limit of 1 for Dageraad while 77% knew that the bag limit for roman was not 1.
*Did you catch that? Maybe you didn't because it took 63 visits to this blog for someone (Well done Fanie Fourie) to point out that is not an "Adult Englishman" but it is in fact, a Red Stumpnose (Miss Lucy), still a member of the Chrysoblephus Genus (Chrysoblephus gibbiceps). This fish still has a bag limit of one, but if you breezed past that section believing it was an adult Englishman, you are not alone. 64% correctly identified a bag limit of 1 f̶o̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶a̶d̶u̶l̶t̶ ̶e̶n̶g̶l̶i̶s̶h̶m̶a̶n̶, Adult Red Stumpnose.
Notice anything else? Are you sure that's a "Juvenile Englishman"? It is actually a Juvenile Red Stumpnose. While these fish share the same bag limit, they actually have a different size limit. For Red Stumpnose, the min. limit is 30cm while for Englishman it is 40cm. So don't feel like you wasted your time reading that paragraph as the two are still the same fish that were identified as different fish by survey participants.
Proper identification of your catch is incredibly important when it comes to sustainable fishing. It could mean the difference between mistakenly keeping a prohibited species that you though was something more common. This fish is a Seventy Four. A protected and prohibited species. They were once the most common linefish consumed in KZN, however, due to overfishing, stocks collapsed and they have been specially protected since 1998. They are currently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN list of threatened species. 41% of anglers identified this fish as a Karanteen (strepie). The alarming part about this statistic is that the small populations of Seventy Four are found in the same place as Karanteen which is a relatively abundant species regulated only by a size limit of 15cm. Mistaking a small Seventy Four for a large Karanteen will definitely ensure that Seventy for is wiped out in our life time.
There are a few fish in South Africa that have closed seasons to recreational anglers. These include Shad/Elf, Galjoen and Red Steenbras. This affords these highly sought after species some protection during vulnerable life stages such as spawning. Only 37% knew that it was illegal to target and keep shad during the months of October and November.
This wasn't the only fish misidentified in this survey. 30% of anglers couldn't identify the subtle differences between a Geelbek and a Kob.
There also seems to be a regulation that 41% of anglers believe exists where you may only use 2 rods at a time even though there is no regulation regarding the amount of rods you may use. The only regulation that restricts the equipment of a recreational angler is that they may not have more than 10 hooks on a single rod. The only feasible explanation for this is the Mandela Effect (*extreme sarcasm).
The participants of this survey fished about 50 times per year on average. The amount of times people fished had no significant outcome on their score on this quiz. Those who fished less than 20 times per year did as well as those that claimed to have fished 51-100 times per year. Those who fished more than 100 days per year did have a marginally better score.
Being a good fishermen isn't just about catching fish. It's about knowing the fish that you are catching as well as the sustainable practices that must be applied to that fish in order to ensure you'll be able to catch them in the future. The results of this survey show that we as anglers need to brush up on our knowledge. I firmly believe that we can never stop learning more about our fishery and the fish we catch, release, tag, eat etc. These results are not meant to point fingers at any specific group of fishermen, but to highlight the amount of ignorance within out fishery and how far we need to go before we even CAN start pointing fingers. Please have a look over the DAFF recreational fishing do's and don'ts and if you have trouble identifying fish and according to these results, you likely do, pick up a guide to South African Coastal Fishes which you can get from the SAIAB HERE as well as from several other publishers.