Review of research trends

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A Century of Linefish Research in South Africa: Bibliography and review of research trends

Edited by
R.M. Palmer, P.D. Cowley & B.Q. Mann

With contributions from
A.W. Paterson, R.H. Bennett, T. Hecht

This report published by the South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research (SANCOR) was co-operatively sponsored by funds obtained from the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) Elwandle Node and the Marine Linefish Research Group (MLRG). Numerous individuals from several South African academic and research institutions are thanked for their support and contributions to the bibliography. Illustrations of fish on the front cover courtesy of SAIAB / NISC ©, while images were provided by SAIAB, P.D. Cowley, A. Götz and W.M. Potts.

This report should be cited as follows:

Palmer, R.M., Cowley, P.D. & B.Q. Mann (Eds.) 2008. A Century of Linefish Research in South Africa: Bibliography and review of research trends. South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research Occasional Report No. 6: 108 pp.

An electronic copy of this report and the bibliography can be downloaded from the SANCOR website or is available from SAIAB

Table of contents

Abstract iv

Introduction 1

Methods 6

Literature sources 6

Analysis of research trends 7

Definitions of themes and focus areas 7

Taxonomy and systematics 7

Biology 8

Ecology 9

Management and fisheries 9

Mariculture 10

Elasmobranchs 11

Other 12

Results and Discussion 13

Analysis of publication by theme 13

Analysis of geographical regions 13

Analysis of the temporal trends 15

Period 1900 – 1949 16

Period 1950 – 1959 17

Period 1960 – 1969 18

Period 1970 – 1979 19

Period 1980 – 1989 20

Period 1990 – 1999 22

Period 2000 – 2007 23

The future of linefish research in South Africa 24

Linefish researchers 26
Conclusion 28
Literature cited 29
Appendix 1 34

Appendix 2 35

A substantial literature exists on South African linefish species but has never been collated to produce a bibliography of research outputs. This document provides the first compilation of published and selected unpublished works (including student theses) on this subject, thereby providing scientists and managers with a valuable research tool. Approximately 1900 references were sourced and categorized into seven themes by their titles and keywords. The themes were: Taxonomy and systematics, Biology, Ecology, Management and fisheries, Mariculture, Elasmobranchs and Other. Publications within each theme were further classified according to focus areas (i.e. specific research disciplines). The bibliography was analysed to reveal trends in contributions by geographic region, focus areas (by decade) and research capacity. Research outputs were dominated by contributions in the Management theme (44%) followed by Biology (20%), Ecology (12%) and Elasmobranchs (12%). Research on locally occurring linefish species has been conducted throughout South Africa and its neighbouring countries (Mozambique and Namibia), with the greatest contribution being from KwaZulu-Natal (23%). Over the past 100 years, the focus of linefish research has shifted from taxonomic investigations to biological and management related research. Of the 128 researchers who have published papers, 42% are still active. However, South Africa has lost research capacity as 21% have emigrated, the majority over the past 20 years. Despite this, linefish research is still very active, with all major research and academic institutions having ongoing projects and registered students. It is envisaged that future research will remain directed at informing management decisions, while technological advances particularly in the fields of genetics and biotelemetry will make significant contributions.

Hook and line fishing in South Africa dates back to the mid 1600’s when the Dutch first colonized the Cape. However, ichthyological research only began in 1895 when J.D.F. Gilchrist was appointed as a marine biologist for the Cape Colony. Initially, research by Gilchrist and other prominent ichthyologists, such as J.L.B. Smith and K.H. Barnard, focused on the taxonomic descriptions of fish (including linefish species). However, the development of a thriving fishing industry necessitated research on target species and later on marine ecosystems. The primary role of linefish research in South Africa, as in the rest of the world, is to produce the knowledge needed by government to implement management, and to maintain an environment conducive to the development and sustainability of the fishery (Anon 1997).
The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Branch: Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) is the regulatory authority responsible for managing and conserving marine living resources. Research scientists based at academic and research institutions, as well as MCM, have conducted research on more than 100 linefish species in order to advise the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism on how to manage South Africa’s commercial, recreational and subsistence linefisheries.
Despite the development of marine science in South Africa, which took place during a time of increasing political isolation from the rest of the world, the standard of linefish research has remained high. This can be attributed to good research co-ordination, largely facilitated by the South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research (SANCOR) and its predecessor, the South African National Committee for Oceanographic Research, and strong collaborative efforts and co-operation between research scientists based at the major research institutions.
SANCOR offers assistance to both government and non-governmental organizations, to carry out tasks related to the coastal and marine environment. Moreover, SANCOR provides a platform for collaboration and communication in marine science and management. Furthermore, SANCOR is involved in planning for the future, facilitating research, advising on research priorities and communicating research findings. There are seven research co-ordinating groups that fall under SANCOR. Two are relevant to linefish research; namely the South African Marine Linefish Management Association (SAMLMA) and the Marine Linefish Research Group (MLRG). SAMLMA is a formally constituted interest group, which is recognized in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act (No 18 of 1998) as the official body representing linefish users. SAMLMA comprises representatives of the recreational and commercial linefishing sectors, as well as regional conservation authorities and linefish researchers. The primary purpose of SAMLMA is to facilitate communication between the role-players involved in the linefish industry and to discuss and debate issues surrounding management and the promulgation of new regulations. This body plays a crucial role in enabling stakeholders in the linefishery to contribute towards improved management. The MLRG, on the other hand, focuses on co-ordinating linefish research efforts and direction. The aims of this co-ordinating group are:

  • To formulate and prioritise linefish research projects

  • To solicit funding for linefish research projects

  • To facilitate the transfer of linefish research results to managers and users

  • To organise periodic workshops and conferences

The MLRG has a membership of approximately 50 researchers and students based at several academic and research organizations throughout South Africa (Table 1).

Table 1. Institutional members of the Marine Linefish Research Group (MLRG), with contact details.

Bayworld (Port Elizabeth Museum)

P.O. Box 13147, Humewood 6013

+27 (0)41 584 0650


P.O. Box 395, Pretoria 0001

+27 (0)12 841 2911


Marine and Coastal Management

Private Bag X2, Roggebaai 8012

+27 (0)21 402 3911

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

P.O. Box 77000, Port Elizabeth 6031

+27 (0)41 504 1111

Oceanographic Research Institute

P.O. Box 10712, Marine Parade

+27 (0)31-3288222

Rhodes University (Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science)

P.O. Box 94, Grahamstown 6140

+27 (0)46 603 8415/6

Rhodes University (Department of Zoology)

P.O. Box 94, Grahamstown 6140

+27 (0)46 603 8525

South African Environmental Observation Network

Private Bag 1015, Grahamstown 6140

+27 (0)46 622 9899

South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity

Private Bag 1015, Grahamstown 6140

+27 (0)46 603 5800

Two Oceans Aquarium

P.O. Box 50603, Cape Town 8002

+ 27 (0)21 418 3823

University of Cape Town (Zoology Department)

Private Bag X3, Rondebosch 7701

+27 (0)21 650 2712

University of KwaZulu-Natal

University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4041

+27 (0)31 260 2212

University of Pretoria

University of Pretoria, Pretoria 0002

+27 (0)12 420-3111

University of the Western Cape

Private Bag X17, Bellville, Cape Town, 7535

+27 (0)21 959 2911

University of Zululand

Private Bag X1001, KwaDlangezwa 3886

+27 (0)35 902 6030

Over the past 100 years, linefish research trends in South Africa have been influenced by a number of factors. Although human interest and curiosity have played a role, social, economic, political and technological developments have generally dictated research focus areas and influenced the direction of South African linefish research. Substantial research has been conducted, but research outputs are widely distributed in the peer reviewed literature and much documentation is in the form of unpublished reports and theses. This presents an obstacle to researchers by making awareness of, and access to “grey literature” difficult, thus preventing them from deriving the full benefits of work that has already been done. Therefore, a comprehensive bibliography of extant work would serve a valuable purpose. Several studies have assessed various sectors of the linefishery (e.g. Brouwer et al. 1997, Griffiths 2000) but none have covered the full extent of the available literature. The need for such a document was the primary motivation for the present compilation, and it is hoped that the bibliography presented here will serve as a useful reference to scholars and researchers in this field. Moreover, this bibliography provides an opportunity to reflect on what has been done in the subject over the past 100 years, review the trends in research focus areas and provide some insight into future research needs.

This bibliography is restricted to studies conducted on South African linefish species and covers a range of subjects including taxonomy, biology and management. As a first attempt, it is obvious that some literature will have been omitted. Identification of the gaps in its coverage, studies recently published and work still to be written up, mean that the bibliography will need to be updated on a regular basis. This may be possible via a website, where students, researchers and/or librarians can add unlisted references.
The aim of this study was to compile a comprehensive bibliography of linefish research outputs and to investigate geographic and temporal trends over the past century.

Literature sources
Literature on South African linefish species was sourced in the following way:

  • Publication citations were searched using available electronic databases, such as Biblioline and Science Direct (in the SAIAB / Rhodes University library)

  • Reference lists of a number of key linefish publications were scanned for citations

  • Contributions were made by academic and research libraries, notably the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) library in Durban

  • Several active linefish researchers provided their personal bibliographies and citation lists.

These searches yielded approximately 1900 publication citations, and included: peer reviewed published articles, Honours, Masters and PhD theses, published reports, popular articles, books, conference and workshop proceedings, conference posters and unpublished reports. A full list of these publications is provided in Appendix 2.

Analysis of research trends
Based on the title and keywords (when available), each publication was categorized and allocated to one of seven themes:

  1. Taxonomy and systematics

  2. Biology

  3. Ecology

  4. Management and fisheries

  5. Mariculture

  6. Elasmobranchs

  7. Other

Within these themes, each publication was further categorized according to distinct focus areas (e.g. life history studies within the Biology theme). Some publications were allocated to more than a single focus area and were sequentially numerated as a publication in each of the respective focus areas.

Definitions of themes and focus areas
1 – Taxonomy and systematics

  1. Genetics: Publications in which molecular techniques were used to investigate phylogeny, phylogeography, population genetics, etc.

  2. New records and descriptions: Publications that report new species descriptions, taxonomic revision or new distribution records of fish species.

  3. Taxonomy and systematics: Publications relating to the classification of fish or the relationship between species or stocks within a single species. This does not include studies where genetics have been used to do this.

2 – Biology

Publications in this theme focused only on aspects of the biology of linefish species, and the results were not management orientated.

  1. Physiology: Publications that focus on physiological aspects of linefish species (e.g. metabolic rates, temperature preference, food conversion ratios, etc.).

  2. Life history: Studies in which the life history strategies of fish are described.

  3. Reproduction: Studies that focus on aspects of the reproductive biology of fishes, such as gonosomatic index (GSI), reproductive seasonality, age at maturation, etc.

  4. Age and growth: Publications that focus on aspects of the age and growth of fishes.

  5. Diet and feeding: Publications in which aspects of biological studies focused on the diet and feeding of fish are discussed.

  6. Tagging and movement: Publications involving tagging of linefish species or which describe the movement patterns of the fishes in question.

  7. Distribution, abundance and population dynamics: Studies in which the distribution, abundance or population dynamics of fish were investigated, but not applied to management.

  8. Egg and larval studies: Publications that focus on aspects of the biology of eggs and larval fish.

  9. Methods, research programmes: Publications in which studies focused on research methods for collection of biological data, as well as publications focused on biological research programmes.

3 – Ecology

Publications within this theme were similar to the biology theme; however, research emphasis was placed on the ecosystem rather than the fish species. Similarly, the results of these studies were also not related to aspects of management. The identified focus areas were as follows:

  1. Habitat: Publications focused on the study of habitats and habitat use, specifically by linefish species.

  2. Oceanography: Publications in which studies on the effects of oceanographic occurrences on linefish are discussed. (e.g. the effects of ocean currents on the distribution of linefish species).

  3. Distribution, dispersal, seasonal/spatial analysis, density, biomass: Publications in which ecosystem level studies focusing on distribution, dispersal and seasonal/spatial analysis of species density and biomass are discussed.

  4. Trophic relationships and food cycle: Studies on the trophic relationships between fishes or between fishes and invertebrates. (e.g. stable carbon isotope analysis, food webs etc.).

4 – Management and fisheries

Publications within this theme focus largely on the management of linefish species and include the following focus areas.

  1. Stock assessments, modelling and catch statistics: Publications that focus on stock assessments of linefish species, and studies where catch statistics and data modelling have been used.

  2. Tagging: Publications in which management decisions are made or suggested, based on the results of tagging studies.

  3. Research programmes/objectives: Includes publications that focus on research programmes/objectives rather than the results that research programmes provide. (e.g. South Coast gamefish project and Research Highlights series).

  4. Status reports: Publications in which the status of fisheries or fish stocks are given.

  5. Fisheries, resource use and economics: Publications focusing on fisheries, resources use or the economics or socio-economics of the linefishery.

  6. Biology, ecology, age and growth: Publications in which management decisions are made or suggested based on biological or ecological study results. Publications in this focus group may be similar to those found in the biology theme; however, the results of these studies have been used for management.

  7. Policy and Regulations: Publications that are focused on the development, rationale and application of management in the linefishery. This includes legislation, fishing rights and quotas, MPA’s and conservation, etc.

5 – Mariculture

This theme includes publications related to the culture of linefish species in South Africa, and was divided into the following focus areas:

  1. Policy and legislation: Publications dealing with policy and legislation pertaining to mariculture in South Africa that applies specifically to the culture of linefish species.

  2. Status, development and industry: Publications about the status or development of the mariculture industry.

  3. Research (biology, systems): Publications based on research that has been done on the biology of fish for mariculture purposes, or on mariculture systems.

  4. Environment: Publications dealing with mariculture site suitability and/or the effects of mariculture on the environment.

  5. Applied mariculture: Publications that focus on applied mariculture. (e.g. mariculture as a management tool for linefish species or stock enhancement research).

6 – Elasmobranchs

All publications on elasmobranch species were included in this theme. The identified focus areas were as follows:

  1. Behaviour: Publications focusing on elasmobranch behaviour (e.g. shark attacks).

  2. Physiology, taxonomy, life history, ecology, distribution and movement: Publications on physiological and/or taxonomic aspects of elasmobranchs, as well as life history, distribution and movement studies (not tagging studies) on elasmobranchs.

  3. Age and growth: Studies that focused on aspects of the age and growth of elasmobranchs.

  4. Shark nets: Publications dealing with the use, effects and catches of shark nets in South Africa.

  5. Fisheries, catch statistics, angling: Publications in which shark fisheries and angling, as well as catch statistics and fishery status reports are discussed.

  6. Management, conservation, population dynamics: Publications on the management, conservation and population dynamics of elasmobranchs.

  7. Tagging: Publications in which tagging and movement studies are discussed

  8. Food, diet, feeding: Publications dealing with feeding and dietary studies, excluding feeding behaviour, which is covered in the Behaviour focus.

  9. Reproduction: Studies that focused on the reproductive biology of elasmobranchs.

  10. Other: Publications that could not be assigned to any of the other focuses within the elasmobranch theme were assigned to this focus group.

7 – Other

Publications that could not be assigned to any of the above mentioned themes. These were mostly popular articles. The focus areas identified were as follows.

  1. Angling: Publications in which recreational angling is discussed. (This includes mainly popular articles in publications such as Tight Lines and The Fishing and Hunting Journal and Ski-boat Magazine)

  2. Research: Publications about research without including results of the research. (Mostly popular articles).

  3. Fish profiles and guides: Publications that are field guides and fish profiles (Mostly popular articles).

Results and discussion

Analysis of publication by theme

The majority (44%) of the approximately 1900 publications fell into the Management category, followed by Biology (20%), Ecology (12%) and Elasmobranches (12%) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Percentage breakdown of linefish research publications according to each thematic category.

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