The Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) is a division of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) which strives to stimulate community awareness of the marine environment through education and promote wise, sustainable use of marine resources through scientific investigation. ORI is based at uShaka Marine World in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Much of the work of the institute is focused on the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. It is also a leader in marine research in the Western Indian Ocean region, and has worked on projects in all of the countries and island states along Africa’s east coast.

The ORI-Cooperative Fish Tagging Project (ORI-CFTP) was launched in 1984 and is undoubtedly one of the most enduring and successful environmental citizen scientist projects of its kind in South Africa. It involves the cooperation of conservation-conscious anglers (i.e. anglers who voluntarily tag and release their fish) and the marine angling public at large, who report the majority of the recaptures (i.e. a fish that is recaught with a tag in it) to ORI. Despite the voluntary nature of this project, the tagging of fish still has great scientific merit, allowing us to learn more about the movement patterns, growth rates, mortality rates and population dynamics of our important linefish species. This information is extremely valuable and is used by scientists and managers around the country for policy- and decision-making on linefishery management. Besides the large quantity of important scientific data collected by this long-term project, the tagging project has also made a major contribution towards changing the ethics of anglers with regard to catch-and-release, which undoubtedly goes far beyond the pure scientific value of the data collected. Not only do anglers now have a reason to capture and release a fish, they are in actual fact contributing to a better understanding of the biology and ultimately the conservation of that species. This added bonus goes a long way in improving angler awareness about our marine linefish species, as well as contributing towards sustainable fishing.


In response to concerns over elf/shad stocks, regulations were imposed on their capture during the late 1970s. Counter-intuitively, this sparked outrage amongst anglers, which prompted the 1979 Smith Commission of Inquiry. This proved to be a watershed moment. Not only did the Commission endorse ORI’s research that called for control over shad angling in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), but it posed the question as to whether stocks in the Cape were part of the same population, and hence would also require protection. As Cape fishermen were vehemently opposed to any controls, it posed a real challenge. How to investigate this problem ?

Clearly tagging presented a unique opportunity to identify connectivity between fish in KZN and those occurring in the Cape. Consequently, Simon Chater and passed ORI Director, Rudy van Der Elst, assembled a small team of fishermen to undertake the “arduous and painful” task of tagging as many shad as possible in the shortest time. A month-long tagging expedition was launched in 1981 during which several hundred shad were tagged at Struisbaai, Plettenberg Bay, East London and subsequently also at Durban and Cape Vidal. The results were very convincing with several Cape-tagged fish soon recaptured on the KZN South Coast. While this appeared confirmation of the theory of one population, it did not convince too many fishermen in the Cape!

At this time there was a growing pro-conservation sentiment amongst South Africans anglers, stretching from Zululand to the Eastern Cape and beyond to Gordon’s Bay. We, at ORI, took advantage of this situation by introducing a number of joint initiatives such as catch return cards and the analysis of specimens caught during angling tournaments. We next raised the idea of fishermen tagging fish on behalf of scientists, thereby assisting research and having a bigger stake in the future of their own sport. The idea was immediately popular, especially amongst the big game fishing fraternity of the Western Cape. A draft programme was developed and submitted to Stellenbosch Farmers Wineries (SFW) who generously funded the tagging project for decades (22 years) under their Sedgwick’s Old Brown Sherry label, eventually in partnership with WWF. Fortunately for the project, the Sedgwick’s products did very well – a fact that we (obviously) attributed to the success of the tagging project!

The success of this citizen scientist project is evident from its continued existence since 1984. What is not always evident but which has been a most critical element is the commitment and dedication of so many people. Ranging from those first taggers and the SFW staff, to the record breakers and the scientific staff, to the present team, which keeps improving and adding refinements to this great collaborative project.

ORI Staff

Mr Gareth Jordaan (MSc, University of KwaZulu Natal)

Assistant scientist/Tagging Officer

Dr Bruce Mann (PhD, University of KwaZulu-Natal)

Senior scientist/Project Leader

Dr Ryan Daly (PhD, Rhodes University)