Shad Classification, Distribution and Local Importance
The Shad (species: Pomatomus saltatrix – Lineaus), also known in South Africa as Elf, in Australia as Tailor and the USA as Bluefish, is a member of the order Perciformes and family Pomatomidae, and is a popular angling and food fish especially in KwaZulu Natal where people of Indian origin find it extremely desirable.
Shad is also a favourite bait fish used by anglers looking for larger predatory fish species, e.g. Garrick (Leervis) and Kob.
Predominantly an inshore species, shad come close inshore to feed around rocky outcrops and in the surf zone. Shad are found along the entire coastline of South Africa from Southern Moambique to Namibia.
A Cool Water Species
Contrary to many opinions, Shad is not a tropical water species! Larger specimens of breeding age in fact favour cooler, more temperate, conditions. This can be observed by the relative scarcity breeding age shad along the coast of KwaZulu Natal (KZN) during summer months when sea temperature rises above 22 degrees. At this time of year the main shoals and larger individuals are found on the Southern and Western coast.
Breeding Migration and Fecundity
From about April the species begins it’s migration up the east coast on their way to the waters of KZN where they will spawn. The migration co-incides with the annual sardine migration that takes place each year. Shad in South African waters spawn in the warmer water of KZN and Southern Mozambique. Smaller females (around 35cm length) release several hundred eggs, while larger individual can drop tens of thousands each year
This fact raises the question whether the current practice of protecting smaller individuals is not misguided. Perhaps a better approach to protecting the species will be one where both a minimum and maximum size limit is placed on the species. This practice has already been implemented to some extent with another inshore species, argyrosomus hololepidotus – more commonly known as Kob or Kablejou (members of the same family known as Drum in the USA) where both minimum and maximum sizes have been applied. The restriction varies between shore and boat anglers.
Controversy over Conservation of Shad
Much controversy exists over the conservation measure enforced for this species, especially in KwaZulu Natal. As shad are mainly only caught on this stretch of coastline from July/August to the end of November, and a total ban on capture is in place from October to the end of November, many anglers (rightly or wrongly) believe they are being deliberately targeted by the ban. The Indian origin community feels this particularly.
For the community of Indian origin people shad has historically formed an important source of protein. Many members of this community follow the Hindu religion, and the variety of meat protein is limited by their belief. Fish and other seafood have long formed an important source of this protein.
Another factor of historical significance to this population sector is the cost of meat protein. For many years the Natal Indian community one of the poorer economic groups in the region, so shad was an important source of affordable protein. Although today this community is generally more economically succesful, the tradition of catching and eating shad continues.
Commercial Expoitation adds to the Bitterness
Shad is caught commercially in Mozambique during the migration, and the fish is often seen for sale in shops and supermarkets in KZN. For fishermen denied the right to catch (and/or sell) this species this is a bitter pill to swallow. It cannot be successfully argued that the Mozambique population is a separate stock to the South African stock. The fact is most if not all shad caught in Mozambique has migrated up the coast of KZN before being caught in Moz., then sold in South Africa.
For the large number of subsistence fishermen who are not permitted to sell the species and who are restricted to quantities, sizes and a closed season, this can only cause more frustration and anger. Intense rivalry exists between both the Indian community along with the subsistence harvesters against the Conservation officials (more on this in another article).
+Mike Otgaar (Guest Author)
- The Sea Fishes of Southern Africa 1st and 3rd editions (Prof. J.L.B. Smith)
- A Guide to the Common Sea Fishes of Southern Africa (Rudy van der Elst)
- Thesis in progress: Commercial and Subsistence Fishing in South Africa (Mike Otgaar)