A few days ago I was targeting grunter with my friend, Beetle Baily. We were both getting few fish and at some point Beetle shouted to me that he has just landed a tagged grunter. I immediately ran over to take a photograph of the fish and tag in order to send the recapture information to the Oceanic Research Institute of South Africa who manages the tagging program. “It might even be one of the fish you tagged recently” was Beetle’s reply. I thought this highly unlikely, since there appeared to be fairly large numbers of feeding grunter where we were fishing, making recaptures an unlikely occurance. When I got home, I looked at my recent tagging data and discovered that I tagged this fish just two days prior to it’s recapture, before being released for a second time. It was free for just over 48 hours. Recaptured in the same spot on the same fly.
For me, alarm bells was going off and in order to make some sense of this, I asked Paul Cowley of the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity in Grahamstown for his opinion:
“Over the past decade we have done lots of tagging with dart tags and acoustic transmitters on estuarine associated fishes. The take home message from this is that juvenile fish remain faithful to their home nursery estuary for the first few years of their lives. So if you reside on or fish a particular estuary it is in your best interests to practice C&R because every fish removed is one less to the local resident population of fish.
As they grow up they lose some fidelity to their home estuary and various species display different patterns. Unlike a white steenbras that basically becomes a marine fish after leaving its nursery, grunter do use estuaries extensively as adults. So they go to sea to spawn but pop in and out of estuaries for the rest of their lives – presumably for food (prawns) and we also suspect to rid themselves of marine parasites. Some grunter exhibit fairly high levels of connectivity with neighbouring estuaries BUT in the W Cape where there are fewer estuaries this level of connectivity is much lower than in the E Cape where they have plenty more options to enter other estuaries. Also when growing up in an estuary they display extreme residency so it is no wonder this fish was caught at the same spot!
A high recapture rate is usually indicative of fairly small population but I must say grunter recapture rates are far lower than juvenile dusky kob and leervis – so grunter populations are bigger.”
In my opinion, the grunter of the Breede River estuary are under a lot of angling pressure, especially over holiday season. At certain times we could count 30 boats on the water, all catching and keeping grunter. Today spotted grunter are the primary species targeted since the demise of dusky kob that the Breede River were once famous for. Very few anglers practice CAR and then there’s also the taxman (bull sharks) that take fish before the catch limits of the day is reached.
Low recapture rates of tagged fish indicate a healthy fishery. This recapture indicates that there are far fewer fish than would appear. Sometimes we see tailing fish every 5 or 10 minutes and think that there must be a small school of fish feeding, but this could in fact be a single fish.
While the grunter stocks may appear healthy now, I fear that these magnificent fish might suffer the same fate as species such as the dusky kob, if we as anglers don’t take a more responsible approach and only keep fish for immediate use.