7.14 Yellowfish project - a partnership with concerned fishermen
Of the nine so-called species of freshwater Yellowfish in South Africa, two major ones - the Smallmouth and Largemouth - are found in the Vaal River. AngloGold Ashanti's Vaal River operations cover a 32 kilometre stretch of this river.
These are both popular angling species, but they are also important indicators of river health, a significant consideration given the water quality impacts from the numerous mining and agricultural operations alongside the river. The Vaal Orange Largemouth is regarded as a 'red data' or endangered species, currently classified as 'vulnerable', and is a prime focus of the Yellowfish Working Group (YWG), formed in 1997 by the Federation of Southern African Flyfishers (FOSAF).
Although FOSAF was keen to encourage yellowfish flyfishing, they were also concerned that anglers and riparian owners, for their own convenience, may translocate the fish outside of their natural catchment area, resulting possibly in genetic interference of the species.
AngloGold Ashanti has contributed R105,000 to genetic research and mapping, which will assist in the formulation of a plan to ensure correct management and stocking of this species. When this research was first initiated, AngloGold Ashanti's properties were already included within the YWG's river conservation area, but it was only in 2001 that the group formally approached John Amis, manager of the South Africa Region's Environmental Department, to request sponsorship of critical research on the development, migration and distinctive attributes of the Yellowfish.
"AngloGold Ashanti saw an opportunity to make a difference," says Amanda Fritz, environmental co-ordinator (Water) at Vaal River and a member of the YWG. "The company has sponsored two genetic studies of the Yellowfish, which have been conducted by researchers from Rand Afrikaans University, Pretoria University and Rhodes University."
At the beginning of 2003, the company donated R45,000 towards Phase 1, which looked at the genetic differences between the Largemouth and Smallmouth Yellowfish species. The results showed there was no clear distinction between the species. Either the two species are very closely related or there are instances of hybridisation between them.
"The AngloGold Ashanti study was important in that it created angler and riparian owner awareness that one shouldn't move fish out of their natural catchment. In doing so one can interfere with hundreds of thousands of years of evolution," says Bill Mincher, Vice President of FOSAF and Chairman of the YWG.
To create awareness of the plight of the Yellowfish, AngloGold Ashanti has provided the YWG with the use of its Geographic Information System, which identifies farms and owners in affected areas. The company also supports education and awareness efforts by FOSAF who encourage angling sportsmen to 'catch and release' the endangered fish.
Patrols have been formed by farmers and officials from the Free State Department of Tourism, Environment and Economic Affairs to guard against disturbance of yellowfish spawning grounds and to prohibit illegal Yellowfish angling. The fish is a popular source of protein for rural communities, but the legal limit for Smallmouth is only two per day, while the Largemouth must be released if caught.
To determine whether the two species are cross-breeding, a follow-up investigation was proposed, to study the morphology (or features) of each species, for example, mouth size and shape of the fish. At the beginning of 2004, AngloGold Ashanti donated R60,000 to Phase 2, in which samples were taken for genetic analysis. Several distinct lineages have now also been identified in both species. This genetic mapping will assist in the formulation of a holistic management plan. The findings of the study are due early in 2005.