Anglers are ready, set and geared for the galjoen season that opened yesterday.
And yes, this is the national fish of South Africa.
Not the powerful great white shark, the South African butterflyfish or the sardine – the galjoen.
This fish is elusive and will go into stealth mode when it sees your bait in the water.
Although usually a dark, near-black, they are able to change colour. Most are nearly-black, helping them to blend into the rocky coastlines they prefer, but they can change to pale bronze when around the coast. Occasionally, they are also able to display vertical stripes. They are known to grow to about 7kg and over half a metre in length, but this large size is rarely reached due to fishing pressures.
They are known as strong swimming fish, that readily enter rough, shallow waters and surf in search of food.
Galjoen eat mainly ascidians (sea squirts like redbait), small crustaceans, barnacles and red seaweed. These foods typically inhabit rocky shorelines in the surf zone, so galjoen need to be able to swim in rough seas and be able to handle scrapes against rocks to thrive. Their small mouths, sharp incisors and thick, muscular lips help galjoen to lever their prey off of the rocks.
Galjoen are a highly regarded sport fish for shore anglers, and were noted as a readily available food fish in early history. As recently as the 1980s, galjoen were the most common shore-caught fish in the Cape, and made up to 80% of the catch of some angling clubs in a given year. Unfortunately, galjoen are no longer this abundant.
A fairly recent study in which 25 000 galjoen were tagged and released found that the majority of these fish spend their whole lives in a relatively small home area of about 1km of coast, with just a few individuals migrating long distances. This means that galjoen are particularly at risk of overfishing, because it is easy for areas where they live to be targeted, and it is very difficult for these small populations to recover.
Recent studies (and the experience of anglers themselves) indicates that this once-abundant fish is growing increasingly scarce. However, the same studies have also shown that due to the “home areas” of galjoen, those populations in protected areas are stable. This poses an interesting situation where the galjoen fishery has been regarded as collapsed since 1997, yet the species itself is not at risk of total extinction.
The WWF South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) lists both galjoen species as Red – i.e. as a consumer, you should not buy or consume either species of galjoen purchased in South Africa. Please be aware, that although it is legal for recreational anglers to catch limited numbers of galjoen at certain times of the year, it is illegal to buy or sell galjoen in South Africa.
If you want to help in the conservation and to gather information about this great fish, visit www.oritag.co.za and order your tagging kit.