The status of the riverbream Acanthopagrus berda (Sparidae) in estuarine systems of northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Acanthopagrus berda is an estuarine-dependent fish species which is widespread in the tropical Indo-Pacific. In South Africa, it is particularly abundant in the three large northern KwaZulu-Natal estuarine systems, namely Kosi Bay, St Lucia and Richards Bay. In these systems, A. berda is harvested by a variety of methods, including traditional fish traps, gillnets and hook and line. The importance of A. berda to the different fisheries was evaluated by analysing all the available monitoring data specific to catches in these three systems. A. berda was found to be one of the five most important species taken in both the gill net and recreational fisheries at Kosi Bay and St Lucia. It was less important in the marine-dominated Richards Bay system. Catches were generally seasonal, with trends in catch per unit effort (cpue) for A. berda related to annual spawning migrations. The long-term trend in cpue for this species in the Kosi recreational fishery showed a disturbing downward trend. Ages of A. berda specimens caught in northern KwaZulu-Natal estuaries were determined by examining whole otoliths. Age estimates were validated by marginal zone analysis and oxytetracycline labelling, which indicated that opaque deposition occurs primarily from September to November each year. The reproducibility of age estimates was described by a coefficient of variation of 10%. The special von Bertalanffy growth curve was found to best describe the growth of A. berda. The parameters of the von Bertalanffy growth curve indicated that A. berda in northern KwaZulu-Natal is slow growing, attaining at least 16 years of age. The age and growth parameters and mortality estimates from catch curves were used to complete a per-recruit stock assessment of the species. The results of the spawning biomass per-recruit model using different ages of first capture indicate that A. berda is at 47% to 55% of its unfished level. Although these results may indicate that A. berda in northern KwaZulu-Natal is not at present overexploited, longevity coupled with late maturation, sex change, estuarine dependency, increasing catches of A. berda and poor monitoring give cause for concern for the continued sustainable use of this species in northern KwaZulu-Natal.