Tails of wonder as 'sardine fever' hits KZN
It's one of the biggest money-spinners for KZN, but nobody truly knows why the sardine run goes there
It’s called “sardine fever” — and judging by the hundreds of people who flock to the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast beaches every year, its only cure is to catch a glimpse of the slippery silver species when the “greatest shoal on earth” arrives.
The sardine fever infection rate rose on Monday when residents, fishermen and early holidaymakers made their way to Pennington and Ifafa beaches to experience the unexplained annual phenomenon.
Each winter, most often in June or July, millions of silvery sardines leave the cold waters off Cape Point and make their way to KZN – and each year holidaymakers flock to the province to catch a glimpse of the spectacle.
With the “sards”, as they are affectionately called, are sharks, birds and dolphins — and, of course, entrepreneurial fishermen — in a feeding frenzy, preying on the sardines.And it is likely that sardine fever will infect more people as the weekend approaches.
KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board head of operations – and official sardine lookout – Mike Anderson-Reade predicted on Monday that the sardines would hit Durban shores by the weekend, coinciding with the start of the school holiday.
“If I have to take an educated guess, I would say the weekend. What we are seeing at Pennington and Ifafa is spectacular. It is really busy there,” he said.
The last time that sardines arrived in full force was “so long ago” that Anderson-Reade could not remember the year.
The reasons for the sardine run are unknown. In fact, in many ways, it makes little sense.
According to the Sharks Board, shoals take advantage of cool water on the continental shelf of the east coast that occurs seasonally, but it’s not clear what the sardines have to gain by entering KwaZulu-Natal waters.
“On the contrary, in fact, local waters are less food-rich than are Cape waters. The favourable cooler conditions are only temporary. And, to make matters worse for the sardines, they are accompanied by many predators which prey on them heavily,” said Anderson-Reade.
While marine experts have yet to explain the natural phenomenon, the human activity that followed it was equally unexplainable.
South Coast Tourism marketing manager Kay Robertson said getting caught up in the frenzy is unavoidable if you’re on the South Coast.“All creatures, great and small, from whales to sharks, dolphins, Cape gannets and humans, all seem to be affected by the heightened excitement in the run-up to the sardine run. When millions of sardines visit our South Coast waters, people try to find insiders who have the latest information on sightings,” said Robertson.
Everyone rushes from beach to beach when the fish land, she added.
But the sardine run is also a lifeline to the local tourism industry and fishermen.
Robertson said it was a huge draw card for local and international tourists, and was second only to the region’s summer holiday season in terms of economic benefit.
“Tourism establishments, from accommodation to diving operators, restaurants and tour operators, bump up their services by getting additional staff to prepare for [sardine] season and also put on various sardine specials during this time,” she said.
The sardine run is also a valuable income source for local fishermen due to the demand for the tiny silver fish.The first basket of at least 30 dozen fish, which is usually the most expensive, sells for about R700. Crates of sardines usually make their way inland and are sold by street vendors throughout the province.
By the end of the sardine run, a dozen fish would cost between R10 and R20.