The 48th Pondoland Marine Protected Area (MPA) fish monitoring field trip was undertaken from 21-22 January 2020. This project primarily uses controlled research fishing and tagging as part of ORI’s ongoing investigation into the effectiveness of this MPA. Overall, 83 fish (73%) were caught in the no-take area, which amounted to 8.9 fish caught per angler per hour. In the exploited area, only 31 fish (27%) were caught amounting to 3.4 fish caught per angler per hour. This was after the same amount of fishing effort in both areas in two successive days of fishing with very similar weather conditions. The team recorded 8 fish species in the no-take area and 10 species in the exploited area. Species composition was dominated by slinger (24), Natal seacatfish (21) and scotsman (21) in the no-take area, while catches in the exploited area were dominated by scotsman (5), Natal seacatfish (5) and blue emperor (5). As usual, the average size of fish caught was generally much larger in the no-take area.
A total of 51 fish were tagged overall with 36 tagged in the no-take area and 15 in the exploited area. Scotsman was the most common species tagged (21), followed by slinger (7) and black musselcracker (7). Over the two days the team recaptured a remarkable 18 fish with 12 coming from the no-take area and 6 recaptures from the exploited area. The fish with the greatest distance moved was a scotsman that moved 446 m in the Mtentu sampling area. All other recaptures moved less with the average distance being a mere 196 m from where they were originally tagged. This indicates the high level of residency of most reef fish. The fish with the longest time at liberty were two yellowbelly rockcod both of which had been free for a remarkable 2371 days (6.5 years) and one of them has been recaptured no less than 6 times!
Since April 2006 (with a break between 2016-2017), we have conducted extensive monitoring in the Pondoland MPA using multiple methods including research fishing, tag-recapture, underwater visual census, baited remote underwater video and monitoring movements of fish tagged with acoustic transmitters. From this research, it is very clear that the Pondoland MPA no-take area is providing an important refuge for many overexploited fish species. Many popular linefish species such as scotsman, slinger, yellowbelly rockcod, black musselcracker, etc. are much more abundant and of a greater size in the no-take area than in the adjacent exploited area. Some species such as black musselcracker are known to spawn in this area and the increase in juvenile black musselcracker in the exploited area reported by local ski-boat anglers bears testimony to the potential of the no-take area to seed adjacent areas. Similarly, over time we have seen several adult fish species, especially scotsmen and slinger leaving the no-take area and moving northwards up the coast presumably to spawn in warmer waters. This provides further evidence of spillover from the MPA, which is helping to enhance fish populations in the exploited areas along our coast.