Experiencing the Sardine Run

It is time for the annual Sardine Run in KwaZulu Natal, an event not to be missed by some St Francis families.  For almost 40 years the Christies from St Francis Bay have been part of a phenomenon that brings filmcrews and tourists from over the world to experience.

“In the beginning our family was reliant on the Sardine Run as a much needed income for our family business.  It was hard work that we enjoyed with my dad, Don.  For us it became a tradition, something we enjoy with our sons now,” says Marc Christy.  The three Christy brothers, Marc, Greg and Tim, together with Kevin Bremner from St Francis Bay and Mike Gradwell from Humansdorp, all ex-Natalians, are the only Sardine Run permit holders outside the province out of the total of 25.  “We all work and stay together, something that gives us an advantage to get to the fish first.”  says Marc.

“Each year is different, we never know what to expect and it makes it difficult to plan.  In the old days we had “spotters” to track the sardines, but nowadays the fishermen uses aeroplanes.  We don’t, as it is a very expensive excersize and there is not much money in the Run.  We are happy if we break even, and it is still a privilege to be part of it.”

Sardine Run

Sardine Run

The permit allows you to drive on the beaches with 4×4’s to launch rubber ducks.  “In the old days we had rowing boats to take out the nets.  We employ about 35 men for the month to help us to net.”   Netting from the shore is the only form of catching the sardines on the KwaZulu Natal coast, as the current is too strong to trawl.  A rubber duck goes out with the net which is tied to the shore, and when the school comes in they release the net to catch the sardines.  “Then it is chaos, which we try our best to control.  The people on the beach get the spilover from the net, and sometimes it becomes a bit of a fight!”

The majority of the sardines are sold to the Indian community, who prepares it in many ways.  Deep fried, stews, curried, on an open fire.  It is very popular “and very healthy, with the oil and vitamin E content,” says Marc.

The very first net of the Run gets the best price, and after that the first of the day.  “If you get the first net, then at least you have a break even situation.  When the price drops to R10 a basket, we know it is time to go home!”  The run lasts for almost a month, starting around the second week of June each year.