Cape horse mackerel, Maasbanker, Carapau (Portuguese)
South Africa - FAO Area 47
Cape Horse Mackerel (Trachurus capensis) is a pelagic species, usually found up to a depth of 300m. They are mostly found over the continental shelf, often over sandy bottoms. The shoals rise to feed in surface waters at night but can be found close to the bottom during the day. Horse Mackerel are very abundant in South African and Namibian waters, though much of the catch is exported. The stock status of Cape Horse Mackerel is uncertain, but expert opinion is that the stock is underfished.
Cape Horse Mackerel is targeted by the mid-water trawl sector. Appreciable amounts of horse mackerel are also caught as bycatch in the hake demersal trawl sectors. The mid-water trawl net is very large and has a minimum mesh size of 75mm when stretched to its maximum. Trawling of fish takes place in the water column and the net is dragged between the bed and the surface of the sea without touching the bottom. The gear used in this fishery is not configured to come into contact with the bottom environment and thus this fishing method is not destructive to the benthic habitat or species, although there is infrequent bottom contact. Because mid-water trawls generally target very large schools of fish, bycatch forms a relatively small percentage of total catch by weight. However, numbers of individuals may be significant for some vulnerable species such as sharks, sunfish and seals. This is an unselective fishery and the survival level is unknown (the survival is thought by experts to be low as the trawl duration is quite long and these animals mostly come onto the deck dead).
Horse mackerel was managed in terms of a Precautionary Maximum Catch Limit (PMCL) up until 2013. In 2013, a fluctuating annual TAC (Total Allowable Catch) regulation was approved. This means that the TAC will slowly be increased unless there are negative signals from resource monitoring. The portion of the TAC allocated to the mid-water trawl directed trawls is 34 650 tonnes. The remainder (12 500 tonnes) is a bycatch reserve for the hake trawl sectors. Juvenile horse mackerel are caught by the small-pelagic fishery on the West Coast where an 18 000 tonnes precautionary upper catch limit (PUCL) over three years is enforced (the whole small pelagic sector is closed if the limit is exceeded). This means that the PUCL in any given year is consequently set at 18 000 tonnes minus the total horse mackerel bycatch in the previous two years, and is recalculated every year. Despite the absence of direct evidence of ecosystem change, there is potential for ecosystem impact as this is an important small pelagic species, and fills a similar ecosystem niche to other small pelagic species such as sardine and anchovy.
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