Garrick – Running the Annual KZN Gauntlet

Hi all and welcome to our inaugural edition of the Catch Cook Magazine.

You can feel it in the air, along all the KwaZulu-Natal beaches from Port Edward right up to Richards Bay and beyond. The annual Garrick run in KZN has kicked off and is in full swing. The winter migration for these iconic, exhilarating, clean fighting game fish, often referred to as the “Gentlemen of the Seas,” is reaching its peak and as usual, it’s been a long hard season for them, where they have been targeted by shore anglers, spear fishermen and offshore anglers.

Garrick or Leervis (Leeries,) Lichia amia are an inshore species occurring from the surf zone out to around 50 m of water, and they have had a fairly difficult history. Angling for garrick, both recreationally and commercially, goes back to the early 1900’s and already, by 1973, the start of conservation efforts for the species began when a bag limit of 5 per person per day was set, with a minimum size of 38 cm total length. One year later, the minimum size was increased to 70 cm (TL) in KZN, and in 1985, this became the minimum size for the entire country. Garrick reach reproductive maturity at around 3 years old and this motivated the change in minimum length. It wasn’t until 1988 though, that garrick were listed as a non-commercial species, (meaning they could no longer be caught for re-sale.) In 2005, the last changes to their catch limits were made and the bag limit was dropped from 5 to 2 per person per day.

A study by the Oceanographic Research Institute in 1993 showed that garrick population numbers had dropped to 50% of their original status, and by 2006 a second study of the species by ORI showed a massive decline in numbers, to less than 25% of their historical values, meaning the population was considered “collapsed.” There are obviously a number of contributing factors to this significant drop in just over a decade ranging from poorer estuarine conditions, where young Garrick spend their first few years, to some of the more drastic climate conditions that have hit our country over the years, but the one definite contributor to the situation is increased recreational fishing pressure from all sectors on this ecologically important species. An increase in the number of anglers targeting these fish, as well as improvements in the fishing equipment have meant that more fish are being caught in KZN, at a time when the strongest specimens migrate and aggregate to spawn.

The introduction of the slide-trace, the more recent move to grinder fishing and drones are all enabling shore anglers to better target the species and improved fish finders and more offshore craft on the water, from ski boats to kayaks, have all contributed to the higher pressure these fish are put under at a time when they are most vulnerable. There are still a huge number of unscrupulous anglers along the KZN coastline that have no respect for bag or size limits, and this can be seen every single year at the same spots on the South Coast where shore anglers target them and on the North Coast where some ski boat anglers fill their hatches, (obviously for re-sale) at the same aggregation spots, and regular spots where spear fishermen take more than they could possibly consume daily, around Durban.

So what do we do to help our garrick?

It’s no secret that policing of our marine resources in KZN is almost non-existent. That’s a fact that we all have to live with. However, in the last 4 years, we have seen an increase in ethical shore anglers practising catch and release, using artificial lures to target this species, for a quick photo and release, and a great move by the kayaking community to only allow released fish to count in their competitions. This was spearheaded by the UKFC kayak club and most other clubs have followed their example. Social media has played a major role in improving awareness about the plight of this species and the results speak for themselves. Sadly though, and even though momentum is growing from this, we need to do more. Whether on the beach or on a boat, we need to challenge anglers who are not keeping to the bag limits and even encourage those that are to consider releasing some of their catch.

The South African scientific marine biology community have recommended an increase to the minimum size from 70cm to 90cm total length, and/or the introduction of a 2-month closed season on garrick from the 1st of October to then 30th of November, when most of the spawning comes to an end. Along with this, they have also proposed estuarine protected areas be established in the Eastern and Western Cape to provide some protection for juvenile garrick. ORI began an acoustic telemetry program to further investigate garrick migration patterns and one fish which was tagged on the South Coast was caught and killed in under 2 months in Port St Johns and the angler refused to hand over the acoustic tag. It is imperative that any tagged garrick be reported to ORI with the tag number, location it was caught, and measurements, whether the fish was kept or released, to assist them with their research. It is only through the efforts of responsible anglers and the influence that they can exert on fellow anglers that we can hope to get this rapidly declining species back on the road to rebuilding its numbers.

Some Interesting Facts:

  • The maximum recorded age of a Garrick is 10 years, recorder in 1990.
  • The South African angling record stands at 32.3kg.
  • The maximum recorded length of a Garrick was 180 cm.
  • Garrick can be targeted using almost all facets of fishing. The most common method still, is to slide a live shad or karanteen out but with the advent of grinder many anglers are also casting live bait out.
  • Garrick will also take spoons, Gt Ice-cream plugs, chisel plugs, bucktail jigs and have even been taken on fly lures in harbours.

Please protect the future of our fish.

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