Review of research trends



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Analysis of geographical regions

Publications were categorized according to the geographical region in which most of the research was conducted. In order to do this, the southern African coast was divided into seven contiguous regions from Namibia in the West to Mozambique in the East (Figure 2). Due to a lack of defined boundaries in some publications, larger categories representing the Southern and Western Seaboard and the Eastern Seaboard were used. A National category (entire coast) was also created. These larger regions overlap one another and the smaller areas; however, publications were assigned to the region that best described where the research took place.





Figure 2: Map of South Africa showing geographical regions used in this study.
The boundaries of the geographical regions are as follows:


  • Namibia Namibia/SA border (Orange River) northwards

  • West Coast Olifants River to Orange River

  • Western Cape Olifants River to Cape Infanta.

  • Southern Cape Cape Infanta to Cape St Francis.

  • Eastern Cape Cape St. Francis to Mtamvuna River.

  • KwaZulu-Natal Mtamvuna River and the South Africa/Mozambique border at Kosi Bay.

  • Mozambique South Africa/Mozambique border at Kosi Bay northwards (but not beyond Mozambique)

  • National Entire coast from Namibia to Mozambique

  • S & W Seaboard Namibia to the Eastern Cape.

  • Eastern Seaboard Cape Agulhas to Mozambique.

  • Unknown If it is not known where the research was undertaken.

  • N/A Location was irrelevant or did not apply.

KwaZulu-Natal has been the largest contributor (23%) to linefish research in South Africa thus far. National scale studies and studies where the location is not applicable follow closely with 19% and 17% of publications respectively, while the Eastern Cape contributed the next largest number with 12% (Figure 3).



Figure 3: Percentage breakdown of where linefish research was conducted in southern Africa between 1900 and 2007.




Analysis of the temporal trends

As linefish research in South Africa has spanned over 100 years, it was necessary to break this into shorter, more meaningful time periods (namely 1900-1949 and then each decade thereafter).

Period: 1900 – 1949

The early 1900’s marked the birth of ichthyology and the study of linefish in South Africa. Interest in the scientific study of fishes (including linefish species) was really sparked by three legendary ichthyologists, J.D.F. Gilchrist, J.L.B. Smith, and K.H. Barnard. J.D.F. Gilchrist, a Professor of Zoology at the University of Cape Town, who in 1895 was appointed as a marine biologist for the Cape Colony (Beckley et al. 2002), was the first to recognize the unique position of the Cape, the fishing potential and the wealth of species awaiting discovery. As a result, he started and headed up the government’s Department of Sea Fisheries, which later became the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism’s branch: Marine and Coastal Management. Gilchrist has subsequently been referred to as the father of ichthyology in South Africa and was one of the first scientists involved in linefish research.


J.L.B. Smith, a chemistry Professor at Rhodes University, whose passion for angling and keen interest in ichthyology ultimately lead to a career change, from chemistry to the study of fish. His enthusiasm and realization of the lack of knowledge regarding fishes of the south-east coast of South Africa saw him play a major role in collecting, describing and classifying African fishes.
The period between 1900 and 1949 was dominated by outputs focused on taxonomic and systematic research. This base of taxonomic knowledge accounted for over 70% of the publications during the first half-century of linefish research in South Africa (Figure 4), and acted as a sound platform from which to develop further linefish research.

Period 1950 – 1959

After his first ichthyological publication in 1931, Smith’s work on fish continued for almost 40 years as he documented marine fish diversity and resolved many taxonomic issues (Whitfield 1996), including work on several linefish species.




Figure 4: Percentage of linefish research publications within each theme over different periods between 1900 and 2007.
In 1946 J.L.B. Smith was appointed as a Research Professor at Rhodes University and in 1947, he founded the research Department of Ichthyology. This allowed him to dedicate his time to ichthyological research, and it was there that he conducted his research until his death in 1968.
During the 1950’s, Smith was in fact one of the main contributors to linefish research in South Africa, producing several publications (e.g. Smith 1951; 1952a; 1952b; 1957a; 1957b; 1957c; 1959) focusing on taxonomy and systematics, including the taxonomy of elasmobranchs.
Despite the focus on linefish during the first half of the century, by 1950 the taxonomic and systematic knowledge of South African linefish was far from complete, and remained the primary focus of research throughout the 1950’s. Although elasmobranch research was becoming more common in South Africa, most of the elasmobranch research done during this period was still focused on the taxonomy and systematics of elasmobranchs. The other main area of focus of elasmobranch research during the 1950’s was on shark behaviour and more particularly, shark attacks (Smith 1951; 1957a; 1957b), likely driven by their reputation as man-eaters at the time.



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