what is the national fish of south africa

The National Fish of South Africa: The Galjoen

South Africa, known for its rich biodiversity and stunning coastlines, has an official national fish that represents the country’s aquatic heritage and natural treasures. The Galjoen (Coracinus capensis), also referred to as black bream or blackfish, holds this prestigious title. In addition to being a symbol of South African marine life, the Galjoen plays an essential ecological role in the marine ecosystem and has significant cultural and economic value. Let’s delve deeper into the fascinating world of this unique and beloved national fish.

The Galjoen’s Physical Characteristics

The Galjoen boasts a distinct appearance, making it easily recognizable. This species typically measures around 40-60 centimeters in length, with a maximum recorded length of 75 centimeters. Its body features an elongated shape, slightly compressed on the sides. Its coloration varies from dark bluish-grey to a metallic black, which lends the fish its alternate name, black bream.

what is the national fish of south africa

One of the Galjoen’s most striking physical traits is its smooth, shiny, and hard scales. These scales are known for their excellent protection against predators and abrasion caused by rocky habitats, which the Galjoen prefers. Additionally, the fish displays impressive dorsal and anal fins, both adorned with sharp spines.

Habitat and Distribution

A fish endemic to South Africa, the Galjoen is predominantly found along the country’s southern and southwestern coasts. Its natural habitat lies within the intertidal rocky areas, surf zones, and shallow reefs. The Galjoen’s preference for such environments stems from its feeding behavior and spawning patterns.

Living in seaweed-rich coastal regions, the Galjoen feeds on a diverse diet, including mussels, crabs, small fish, and various marine invertebrates. Their strong jaws and sharp teeth enable them to ultimately thrive in these rocky habitats. Furthermore, the Galjoen’s feeding habits significantly contribute to the control of mussel populations, playing an important ecological role.

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Conservation and Cultural Significance

The Galjoen holds significant cultural value in South Africa as it symbolizes the nation’s fishing heritage and the importance of sustainable resource management. It has been a popular target for recreational fishermen for centuries, both from the shore and small fishing boats.

To ensure the conservation of Galjoen populations, South Africa has implemented various measures. These include size limits, bag limits, and restricted fishing seasons. These regulations aim to prevent overfishing and allow the Galjoen population to flourish, sustaining the fishery for future generations.

Additionally, the Galjoen has been recognized by the South African government as a vital resource for small-scale subsistence fishing communities along the coast. This acknowledgment emphasizes the species’ significance in providing sustenance and economic opportunities for coastal communities.

Protection Efforts and Threats

While the Galjoen enjoys a level of protection through fishing regulations, it faces threats from various factors. Illegal fishing practices, such as poaching and the use of unsustainable fishing gear, pose significant dangers to Galjoen populations. These illegal practices not only deplete the fish’s numbers but also harm the delicate coastal ecosystems.

Additionally, habitat degradation due to coastal development and pollution negatively impacts the Galjoen’s breeding grounds and its overall population health. Maintaining and restoring the health of their preferred rocky habitats is crucial for the Galjoen’s long-term survival.


The Galjoen, South Africa’s national fish, exemplifies the country’s commitment to preserve its marine biodiversity and natural heritage. With its unique physical features, ecological importance, and cultural significance, the Galjoen continues to captivate the hearts and minds of both locals and tourists alike. Through conservation efforts and sustainable fishing practices, South Africa strives to ensure the Galjoen’s survival for generations to come, as it remains an iconic representation of the country’s coastal treasures.

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