Getting in on the sardine frenzy!

I’m no sardine-lover, but this morning, the silvery fish were literally swimming and jumping through my mind. The beautiful drizzle and blanket of grey in the sky as I drove my son to school took me back to the excitement of that day 14 years ago. It was, in all probability, around this time of the year too. June is synonymous with the sardine run along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline – it’s the greatest natural phenomenon witnessed nowhere else in the world.
More about the science behind the sardine run later, but first, why was I, a vegetarian, chasing sardines?! For you, of course! It was to bring the latest updates to the public as a radio journalist at the SABC. I was with my dear friend and colleague at that time, Belinda Moses, and cameraperson Clive Read who were covering it for television news. As I geared up in my warm jacket and gloves on that cold morning, my parents looked at me in astonishment and with a tinge of concern. Was I really doing this? Would I survive amongst the sardines?
Well, that’s the beauty of journalism. It pushes you to learn more and do things you never anticipated. It’s not just a job, it’s passion.
So the starting place for the sardines is always the south coast. Off we went from our studio base in Durban to Margate, as Belinda’s fishermen contacts pointed us in the direction were they already were, waiting in anticipation.
There was a lot of waiting. And so we got hooked on the fishermen’s tales of previous sardine runs. I recall their optimism, make that, eternal optimism. Yes, there are strategies fishermen use to get the best catch – be it sardines or fish – but essentially, it’s about placing your trust in the sea, and trusting it will share nature’s bounty with you.
After more waiting, we decided to move inland. And, we struck lucky! Soon, shoals of sardines were being netted. The delight on people’s faces were priceless – young and old were clutching buckets and packets to take this delicacy home and enjoy. I’m told spicy, curried sardines served with dhal are the tastiest, but I know some simply fry them with a touch of seasoning. Whichever you prefer, I’m sure you would agree, the best part is catching the sardines with bare hands! It beats buying them on the roadside.
Fortunately for the masses, the sardines were quickly on the move. And so we moved too, to a few beaches until we ended up at Durban’s beachfront. There, they were netted en-mass. I found myself in a sea of sardines and I did what felt natural…I took a few to share with my colleagues and my family – unlike me, they are sardine lovers!
This year has brought great news for sardine lovers. This video and report by News24 says it all…
Watching that video, I can sense the excitement at sea, especially since the sardines have been pretty elusive of late, with some no-shows in the past decade. I won’t engage in the debate about whether over-fishing or climate change has contributed to this. That’s up to the experts. But right now, everything is pointing in one direction… to a bumper sardine run!
If you can go out and witness the greatest shoal on Earth, please do! And if you already have, I’d love to hear your tales about sardines.
Here’s more information and world-class images about the sardine run.

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