Capelin are out of the critical zone but not out of troubled waters - Oceana Canada
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March 29, 2024

Capelin are out of the critical zone but not out of troubled waters

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Scientists with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) no longer consider capelin in northeast Newfoundland and Labrador to be in the critical zone, but it’s not because there are more fish in the water. DFO scientists adjusted the benchmark for the critical zone designation, used to help identify fish populations that are struggling to recover to healthy levels.

DFO scientists made a similar adjustment for northern cod last year which effects capelin as an important food source for cod.

What does this actually mean?

Capelin being just out of the critical zone is a positive sign, but it’s not the whole story.

What changed

• The numerical benchmark that determines the critical zone, also known as the Limit Reference Point (LRP)

What didn’t change

  • The number of fish in the water
  • Capelin populations are not considered healthy
  • Anecdotal evidence from fishers and coastal communities saying they are seeing less capelin than ever before
  • The importance of capelin to the ocean, species like puffins and whales, and other commercial fisheries such as cod
  • Market issues, meaning little economic gain for commercial capelin fishers

This change in critical zone designation has already prompted calls from industry for increased commercial fishing.

Fisheries Management Terminology

Fisheries management determines the fish population health and how best to make decisions by using reference points. An upper stock reference (USR) is the boundary above which a fishery is healthy while a limit reference point (LRP) identifies the boundary below which it is in a critical state. DFO policy and global best practices dictate that corrective action should occur before a stock reaches the limit reference point.

It’s important to remember that this population is still not healthy. Capelin are only at 9 per cent of their historical levels.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s ecosystem and culture are inextricably linked to capelin. Coastal communities harvest capelin and this forage fish is an important food source for species like puffins, cod and humpbacks.

The government must focus on what really matters – managing this population in a way that promotes the health and sustainability of capelin.

How you can help

Call on the government to rebuild capelin, add your name to our petition.