A new ORI project on catface rockcod

By:  Dr Bruce Mann

The movement behaviour of catface rockcod Epinephelus andersoni, a serranid species endemic to southern African waters, has intrigued scientists for many years. While conventional dart tagging data suggest that they are fairly resident like many other rockcod species, their occurrence on recently submerged artificial reefs and their higher abundance outside no-take marine protected areas (MPAs), suggests that this species has some type of searching behaviour which allows them to quickly find new homes.

The Acoustic Telemetry Array Platform (ATAP), which is managed by the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), has provided marine scientists with an opportunity to study the movement behaviour of marine fish species in greater detail. ORI recently obtained funding through the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP) to study the connectivity of marine species between MPAs along the KwaZulu-Natal coast (Project CAPTOR) and one of the focus species is catface rockcod.

Four underwater listening stations (acoustic receivers) supplied by ATAP have been deployed in the Pondoland MPA between Mnyameni and Mkambati. Another four receivers will also be deployed between Mapelane and Cape St Lucia in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park MPA. Twenty adult catface rockcod (10 in each area) will be caught and tagged with V13 acoustic tags to enable scientists to determine movement behaviour of these fish in greater detail. During a recent field trip to the Pondoland MPA from 18-20 July 2018, ORI scientists successfully tagged and released the first seven catface rockcod with acoustic tags. The movement behaviour of these fish will hopefully become known when the data stored on the underwater listening stations is downloaded in June 2019. Until then ORI scientists will focus on tagging the remaining 13 fish (10 at Mapelane and the remaining three in Pondoland). 

This information will provide our scientists with fascinating insights into the secret lives of this interesting and valuable species; information which will help us to protect the species more effectively.