70 years of helping people to care for our ocean

#TBT ORI celebrates over 36 years of the most successful marine citizen science project in South Africa!

By: Gareth Jordaan

The Oceanographic Research Institute’s Cooperative Fish Tagging Project (ORI-CFTP) was the brain-child of past ORI director, Rudy van der Elst, and initiated in 1984.  After over 36 years the project is still going strong and is undoubtedly one of the most enduring and successful citizen science projects of its kind in South Africa. By the end of 2020, 6 713 anglers had joined the project, of whom 4 135 had tagged one or more fish. In the Tagging Project’s 36 year history, over 350 740 fish from 374 different species have been tagged and released, of which 21 558 (6.1%) have been recaptured. The five most commonly tagged species to date include galjoen, dusky kob, garrick, dusky shark,  and spotted grunter. Amongst the many thousands of recaptures, some of the most outstanding include a red steenbras tagged in the Tsitsikamma National Park in 1989 and recaptured off Kei Mouth in 2011, 22.1 years later; a yellowfin tuna tagged off Cape Point and recaptured near the Seychelles some 5200 km away; a ragged-tooth shark tagged at Southbroom in 1988 and recaptured in Frankman’s Hoek in 2020, 26.2 years later; a Roman tagged in Lekkerwater in 1999 and recaptured in the same location 20 years later, providing evidence of a longer life-span than originally suspected; a yellowbelly rockcod tagged in the Pondoland MPA and recaptured no less than nine times on the same reef over a three-year period! It is these and many thousands of other recaptures that make this project so exciting and beneficial.

Information from ORI’s Tagging Project has been extensively used and results generated by this project have contributed extensively to linefish management in South Africa. But, perhaps most importantly, this project has had a positive impact on improving angler awareness and knowledge about our linefish resources. The concept of “tag-and-release” initiated by this project, has partly been responsible for changing the ethics of the recreational fishing community, many of whom are now more informed and release their catch, thereby contributing to a more sustainable fishing future.

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