Coast KZN

31 Mar 2017

What you didn’t know about the popular shad

Holly Konig (South Coast Sun)


The South African stock is distinct, meaning we have the responsibility to look after the shad population along our coast.

Shad, also known as elf, tailor or bluefish is one of South Africa’s most popular angling fish, being caught by over 300,000 anglers every year.

Shad are widely distributed in the warm coastal waters of the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

However, the South African stock is distinct, meaning we have the responsibility to look after the shad population along our coast.
Their perfectly shaped, streamlined bodies allow for speed through the water and their silvery colouration, light beneath and darker above, helps them to blend in with the ocean. These fish are found in both sandy and rocky areas, from the shore down to depths of 100m.

Tagging studies have shown that shad migrate from the cool waters of the Western and Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal each winter. This migration is associated with one of their primary prey, the sardines, which migrate to KwaZulu-Natal during the famous annual ‘sardine run’.

Shad breed in warmer waters of KwaZulu-Natal from spring to mid-summer. These fish reach sexual maturity at one to two years of age, when they are about 25 to 30cm in length.

Large female shad may produce up to two million eggs in one season, although most females produce about one million eggs each season. The eggs hatch after a few days and the pelagic larvae drift passively inshore of the Agulhas Current back to the south-eastern Cape, where they spend their first year living in large marine bays.

During their drift southwards, the tiny fish have a slim chance of survival as the ocean teems with filter feeders and carnivorous zooplankton that thrive by gulping down small fish larvae.

As larvae, shad feed on small marine creatures drifting in the open sea. Adult shad are voracious predators, piscivores, preying on small fish such as sardines, pinkies and streepies (karanteen). Their razor sharp teeth enable them to tear quite large prey into shreds.
Shad hunt by sight and usually feed in clear-water shoals during the day, primarily over sandy seabeds along the edge of reefs. Shad, in turn, provide food for other predators such as large gamefish, sharks and dolphins.

Shad can grow to 100cm in length and weigh up to 10kg. A large fish of this size would be about 10-years-old, but given the high fishing pressure along our coast, few manage to grow to this size.


Conservation status:

Shad have been caught since the early 1900s and there are records of huge shoals being netted off Durban. Shad catches declined severely during the 1960s and 1970s, as a result of overfishing. A study at the Oceanographic Research Institute showed that a dramatic decrease in fishing effort was required to rebuild the stocks. To achieve this, a daily bag limit, a closed season and a minimum size limit were introduced. These limitations have been successful in rebuilding shad stocks to their present levels.

Bag and size limits and closed seasons can be adjusted as scientists learn more about the biology of these fish and the status of the stocks. Shad are the most important fish caught in the recreational shore fishery along the entire eastern seaboard. They are also caught off skiboats, particularly in the south western Cape and in treknets in False Bay.


How you can help

There are a limited number of shad in the ocean. If anglers catch more than can be replaced by their breeding, over-fishing results. This results in fewer shad being caught and their average size becoming smaller. To prevent this, regulations are set to control the number of shad caught. These regulations ensure that everyone catches their fair share and that the fish can continue to be caught in the future.


Obey the fishing regulations

Minimum size limits give fish a chance to breed at least once before they are caught and protect the fish when they are growing at their fastest.

Bag limits restrict daily catches so that there will be enough fish for everyone. Scientists work out how many fish can be harvested safely. This information is used to set a bag limit that restricts the number of fish caught per day. This prevents more successful anglers from catching greater numbers of fish, especially when the fish are ‘on the bite’, rather leaving some behind for less successful anglers.

Closed seasons protect fish during vulnerable stages in their life cycles. The shad closed season protects the fish at the peak of their breeding season.
Where available, fill in catch cards with accurate information about your catches and co-operate with fisheries officers or scientists collecting information on your catch.

These studies provide information about the number of anglers and the number of fish being caught. Scientists can tell the age of fish by counting rings in their ear bones (otoliths) and relating this to the size of the fish. The age that the fish start breeding and their breeding season are obtained by cutting open the fish and inspecting the state of maturity of their reproductive organs.


Tag and release your fish

Tagged fish can provide scientists with useful information about the seasonal movements of fish, their growth rates and in some cases, the size of the stock. They also give anglers an opportunity to become involved in an exciting research programme. Taggers receive information about their tagged fish if they are recaptured.

If you catch a fish with tag in it, read the tag number or remove the tag from the fish and measure the fish, from the tip of the mouth to the fork of the tail. Send the tag number or tag, the type of fish, where it was caught (try to give a specific location), the date caught, the length or weight of the fish and your name, address and telephone number to The Tagging Officer, Oceanographic Research Institute, P.O. Box 736, Durban, 4000.



Only catch what you can eat

Don’t be greedy.

Shad lose quality, texture and flavour when frozen but are delicious when eaten fresh.