I had heard about the sardine runs in Natal, where from time to time due to certain circumstances sardines suddenly moved towards the shore. It always looked so exciting, like a sudden sea harvest.
When my friend Elize Goffe-Wood messaged me yesterday to tell me about the sardine run and I must come immediately, I didn’t even hestitate and rushed down to Hout Bay beach. Not knowing too much about it, I had thought it was a fairly quick and sudden thing, (hence the need to rush and cancel my gym session), but in fact it lasts a few days or a week.
Wikipedia explains it perfectly:
The sardine run of southern Africa occurs from May through July when billions of sardines – or more specifically the Southern African pilchard Sardinops sagax – spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank and move northward along the east coast of South Africa. Their sheer numbers create a feeding frenzy along the coastline. The run, containing millions of individual sardines, occurs when a current of cold water heads north from the Agulhas Bank up toMozambique where it then leaves the coastline and goes further east into the Indian Ocean.
In terms of biomass, researchers estimate the sardine run could rival East Africa’s great wildebeest migration. However, little is known of the phenomenon. It is believed that the water temperature has to drop below 21 °C in order for the migration to take place. In 2003, the sardines failed to ‘run’ for the third time in 23 years. While 2005 saw a good run, 2006 marked another non-run.
The shoals are often more than 7 km long, 1.5 km wide and 30 meters deep and are clearly visible from spotter planes or from the surface.
Sardines group together when they are threatened. This instinctual behaviour is a defense mechanism, as lone individuals are more likely to be eaten than large groups.
The sardine run in Cape Town is fairly rare and in all my years of living here, I don’t recall ever hearing about one.
We didn’t have a net (necessary to catch them) so landed up helping a group of local fisherman who were then more than happy to give us bucket loads of pilchards. Later a friend of Elize’s joined with a brand new net which was the perfect timing because the fishermen had broken theirs with a heavy haul.
What an incredible day it was. Perfect weather with kids running around and picking up fish and pouring water over the buckets. Elize and I started selling the fish for R1 each and managed to raise a bit of money for the fishermen who were very pleased, because they only get R2.50 / kg from the fish companies.
We went home for lunch, sun burnt, covered in sand and smelling like fish, with the not entirely pleasant task of having to rinse and pack about 4 bucket loads. Despite all this, it was one of the best days of the year for me, a unique experience which I will never forget.
Elize’s husband Pete Goffe-Wood was able to pass some of the fish to restaurants, and receive a donation to kick start the Movember fundraiser event taking place at KC Canteen on Thursday 24th November. Pop in on Thursday anytime from 12:00 into the evening for their legendary steak sandwhich and to try Pete’s new beer, Kitchen Cowboys Black River Ale.
I am not a very big fan of sardines but am determined to figure out a few ways to cook them so that they taste delicious. In the meantime check out a delicious recipe for Spanish sardines on my friend Berns blog Live to Eat
*NB ~ a fishing licence is required for any type of fishing on the South African coastline and this can be purchased from the Post Office. See more information here.