Anglers gear up for the ‘Big Nine’ adventure

A conservation campaign promoting South Africa’s yellowfish above the exotic bass and trout has elevated the indigenous species’ popularity with anglers so much that foreigners are starting to visit the country to add yellowfish to their trophy lists, says Free State fish scientist Pierre de Villiers.

Yellowfish are unique to South Africa. As was intended, the promotion of the yellowfish’s popularity

among anglers and elevating its status and value to fishing lodges has boosted efforts to increase its dwindling numbers.

Its popularity is increasing so fast among anglers and breeders, that a comprehensive DNA testing project is now being undertaken to ensure the conservation of the species’ genetic diversity, De

Villiers says.

Anglers and nature conservationists from the Free State, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga started sampling smallmouth and largemouth yellowfish in the lower, middle and upper parts of both the Orange and Vaal River around May.

And scientists from the University of Pretoria and the

University of the North have already started performing DNA tests on the sampled fish. Their aim is to determine whether there are isolated populations of yellowfish whose genetic diversity needs to be protected by preventing them from cross-breeding with yellowfish populations in other parts of the river.

In practice, this would mean that regulations would forbid the introduction of yellowfish fingerlings bred in one part of a river, to other areas to boost fish numbers for commercial use there. This would be to prevent them from inter-breeding with the local

population, losing genetic diversity in the process.

Anglogold, who mines along the Vaal River, sponsored the expensive genetics project. De Villiers says they hope to use the results as a benchmark, eventually expanding the project to the seven remaining yellowfish species.

There is particular concern over the numbers of largemouth and smallmouth yellowfish, which are endemic to the Vaal and Orange river systems. There are places in the two systems where the largemouth yellowfish has already been exterminated through

over-fishing.

New Free State fishing regulations, which De Villiers hopes will be adopted on a national scale, forbids the killing of largemouth yellowfish and limits an angler to a catch of only two smallmouth yellowfish per day.

De Villiers says they are focusing on the conservation of yellowfish because they are such effective indicators of a river’s ecological health.

As they are particularly sensitive to pollution,

a large number of yellowfish in a river is a clear indication that all is well. He says yellowfish need to be protected as they grow more slowly than other fish and their breeding capacity is much lower than

those of the other indigenous freshwater species.

They are ideal quarry for flyfishermen as there is a great biological resemblance between yellowfish, trout and bass. They are also tasty, although bony, says De Villiers, who works for the Free State Department of Tourism, Environmental and Economic Affairs.

His yellowfish campaign started in 1994, when he stood up at a national trout conference, and announced that Free State authorities would no longer tolerate the stocking of the exotic trout and bass in its rivers and streams, as the indigenous yellowfish was just as good an angling species.

Since then a national forum, the Yellowfish Working Group, has been established to co-ordinate the countrywide promotion and conservation of the species. Several fishing lodges were established by landowners along especially the Vaal River, focusing

on yellowfish anglers.

The first yellowfish conservation area has been established along a stretch of around 400km of river.

The Vaal River Yellowfish Conservation and Management

Association is managed by the riverfront landowners and other interested parties. Two similar conservation areas along the Orange River in the Northern Cape are now in the making.

De Villiers dreams of the yellowfish gaining similar status as the Big Five. He says catching yellowfish can become the ideal ”Big Nine Adventure” for South African and foreign anglers alike, as the nine

yellowfish species are found in literally all the popular natural habitats of the country. – Sapa

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