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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Food and drink biodiversity:


Whereas we derive most of our land-based food from domesticated animals and plants, most of the food we eat from the sea is derived from entirely wild species. With well over 30 fish species that are eaten regularly, at least five species of crustacean, at least 12 species of mollusc and at least two species of seaweed, we really do draw on an amazing diversity of wild life in the sea. 


Some of the more important marine fish eaten by people in southern Africa are listed below. 

Sardinops sagax (Pilchard or Sardine)

Harvested commercially off the West Coast. 


Engraulis japonicus (Cape anchovy)

A major component of the purse-seine fishery. The fish are processed mainly into fish-meal and fish-oil. 


Genypterus capensis (Kingklip)

A southern African endemic that is trawled on offshore banks deeper than 50 m. Tasty and expensive. 


Merluccius capensis (Shallow-water hake)

This and the Deep-water hake, which are very similar in appearance, are very important commercial species trawled mainly off the West Coast. 


Merluccius paradoxus (Deep-water hake)

See Shallow-water hake. 


Pomadasys commersonnii (Spotted grunter)


Cheimerius nufar (Santer)

Often caught by ski-boat fishermen.


Chrysoblephus cristiceps (Dageraad)

Occurs where there are reefs, to a depth of 100 m. Feeds on bottom-dwelling invertebrates and small fish. Caught regularly from ski-boats.


Chrysoblephus gibbiceps (Red stumpnose)

Found on reefs to a depth of 150 m. Eats bottom-dwelling invertebrates and small fish. 


Chrysoblephus laticeps (Roman)

Occur on reefs to a depth of 100 m. Feeds on bottom-dwelling invertebrates and small fish. Caught from ski-boats, line-boats and by spearfishermen.


Chrysoblephus puniceus (Slinger)

Occurs on reefs in deep waters off KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique where it is very important in the line-fisheries.


Chrysoblephus lophus (False englishman)

Occurs on offshore reefs off KwaZulu-Natal to a depth of 150 m and is caught from ski-boats.


Cymatoceps nasutus ( Poenskop)

Feeds on bottom-dwelling invertebrates of shallow and deep water rocky reefs. Caught from shore and ski-boat.


Diplodus cervinus hottentotus (Zebra)

A line fish caught along rocky shores.


Diplodus sargus capensis (Blacktail)

A line fish caught along rocky shores.


Lithognathus lithognathus (White steenbras)

Eats sand-dwelling invertebrates and is caught by line from beaches and in estuaries.


Pachymetopon blochii (Hottentot)

Occurs in small shoals in kelp beds. Caught commercially by line in the Western Cape. 


Petrus rupestris (Red steenbras)

A predator of octopus and fish on deep reefs down to a depth of 160 m. A popular angling species. 


Polysteganus praeorbitalis (Scotsman)

A solitary predator occurring on offshore reefs to a depth of 120 m. Caught from ski-boats. 


Polysteganus undulosus (Seventy-four)

A carnivore of fish and squid on deep reefs off the east coast, occurring to a depth of 200 m. Overfishing has depleted stocks severely.


Pterogymnus laniarius (Panga)

Feeds on crustaceans, squid and small fishes over rocky reefs and sand, to a depth of 140 m. Caught by line and trawling.


Sparodon durbanensis (Musselcracker)

Occurs on rocks reefs and shores where it feeds on molluscs, red-bait and crabs. A very popular rocky-shore angling species. 


Rhabdosargus globiceps (White stumpnose)

Occurs over sandy and rocky areas to a depth of 80 m. Caught by line and with seine-nets in the Western Cape.


Dichistius capensis (Galjoen)

A well-known endemic angling fish that is South Africa's national fish. 


Argyrosomus hololepidotus (Kob)

A well-known species occurring all round the coast and also in Australia. Obtained through both trawling and line-fishing. 


Atractoscion aequidens (Geelbek)

A predatory species found near reefs and in the open water where it feeds on species like sardine. Caught by line fishermen and from ski-boats.


Lichia amia (Leervis, Garrick)

A game fish caught by shore-anglers and spearfishermen.


Seriola lalandi (Giant yellowtail)

A well-known game fish caught by spearfishermen, shore anglers and ski-boat anglers, and one of the important fish in the commercial line-fishing industry in the Cape. 


Trachinotus africanus (Southern pompano)

Caught in the surf zone by shore anglers. 


Trachurus trachurus (Maasbanker)

A pelagic shoaling species that eats plankton. It is commercially harvested in the Cape. 


Pomatomus saltatrix (Elf or Shad)

A predatory species (e.g eats sardines). A well-known angling species. 


Thyrsites atun (Snoek)

A well-known predatory species that is caught commercially by hand-line. 


Scomber japonicus (Mackerel)

A shoaling plankton feeder, harvested off the Cape. 


Katsuwonus pelamis (Skipjack tuna)

Tuna out of a tin is usually this species. 


Liza richardsonii (Southern mullet)

Feeds on phytoplankton. The most common fish caught be trek fishermen off the beaches of the Cape. 


Austroglossus pectoralis (East coast sole)

An endemic species living on muddy banks down to a depth of about 100 m. This is the most important commercial flatfish in South Africa. 


Austroglossus microlepis (West coast sole)

Forms part of the flatfish commercial fisheries in southern Africa. 



Jasus lalandii (West Coast rock lobster)

Feeds on mussels, sea urchins and barnacles. Found around the coast of southern Africa from just north of the Orange River to about East London.  It is the most important commercial rock lobster in southern Africa. 


Palinurus gilchristi (South Coast rock lobster)

Has distinctive pink/orange and white bands on the antennae. Occurs along the Eastern Cape coast. It is the second most important commercial rock lobster in southern Africa. 


Panulirus homarus (East Coast rock lobster)

Distinguishable by the two sharp horns projecting forwards between the eyes. Found along KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique coasts. Feed mainly on mussels. 


Penaeus monodon (Tiger prawn)

This species and Metapanaeus monoceros make up 75-95% of the commercial prawn catch off Mozambique and KwaZulu-Natal. 


Metapenaeus monoceros (Brown prawn)

This and the Tiger prawn are the most important commercially harvested prawns in southern Africa. 



Choromytilus meridionalis (Black mussel)


Mytilus galloprovincialis (Mediterranean mussel)


Perna perna (Brown mussel)


Striostrea margaritacea (Cape rock oyster)


Saccostrea cuccullata (Natal rock oyster)


Mactra glabrata (Smooth trough shell)

"Good eating, but collectors are legally limited to eight clams per day. 


Solen capensis (Pencil bait)

"Good eating, and prized as bait."


Donax serra (White mussel)

"... extensively exploited for bait and eating (legal limit 50 per day)."


Haliotis midae (Perlemoen, Abalone)

Limpets (e.g. Patella argenvillei and Patella tabularis)  

Turbo sarmaticus (Alikreukel, Giant periwinkle)

Regulations limit collection to 5 per day. 


Loligo vulgaris reynaudii (Chokka, 'Callamari')



Ecklonia maxima (Sea bamboo)

Harvested for extraction of alginic acid, which, amongst other things, is used as a gel in food products, toothpaste, paint and ink. 


Porphyra capensis (Purple laver)

Eaten widely in the Far East and in Wales and the Hebrides it is mixed with oatmeal and fried to produce 'laver bread'. In South Africa it is rarely eaten. 



  • Branch, G.M., Griffiths, C.L., Branch, M.L. and Beckley, L.E. 1994. Two oceans. A guide to the marine life of southern Africa. David Philip, Cape Town.