The people have spoken: Close the commercial capelin fishery - Oceana Canada
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May 22, 2024

The People Have Spoken: Close the Commercial Capelin Fishery

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People across Atlantic Canada know how important the ocean is and that fish play a mighty role in keeping the marine ecosystem healthy. One little forage fish called capelin (also known as “caplin”) plays a particularly large role as food for countless marine animals – from big whales like humpbacks and belugas to seabirds like puffins and gannets, and even other fish including cod. Capelin also provide a key link between people and the sea, with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians catching capelin after they have spawned for local food consumption.

Capelin have been overfished by the commercial fishery for 30 years and its population is only at 9 per cent of pre-collapse levels. The commercial fishery targets the eggs of capelin, which means that females are removed from the water before they have a chance to spawn.

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Diane Lebouthillier, will make a decision on the commercial capelin fishery in just a few short weeks. Will the fishery be left open, subjecting capelin to continued overfishing? Or will it be closed, following science and public opinion?

While all voices make a difference, at the end of the day, local community voices matter most. The people on the frontlines, who will face the consequences of this decision for generations to come. Below you will find a collection of local perspectives on the commercial capelin fishery.

The people have spoken. Now the government must listen.

Opinion pieces in newspapers:

LETTER: Why are we still fishing capelin when it's the main food for everything in the ocean? “We should recommend the closing of the capelin fishery, so that the few remaining cod left in the ocean would have food to help them recover and populate the ocean again.” – (Ret.) Capt. Wilfred Bartlett, Conception Bay South

LETTER: Fed up with annual fishery shenanigans “These small food fish determine a healthy ecosystem for larger species like cod. Because of this great importance, we should take all the scientific advice that’s given either by fishers, DFO or any dedicated charity, especially one as professional and involved as Oceana Canada.” – Blair Withycombe, Mount Pearl

LETTER: Minister Lebouthillier must close the commercial capelin fishery

“It’s time for the true value of capelin in our waters to be recognized by our federal government who controls the fishery. The economics of the fishery were once the only consideration. It’s long overdue for other industries, including tourism, to make the economic, ecological, and moral case for protecting capelin by stating how important this fish is for our livelihoods, too… It’s time for the federal Fisheries Minister, Diane LeBouthillier, to listen to coastal people and shut down this fishery for our benefit, and for the ecosystems.” – Skipper Bob Bartlett, Trinity Bay

“… closing [the capelin fishery] down would help other harvesters like the cod and crab fishers because these fish would have more to eat. If we let capelin come back, this little fish could help keep us all alive. It would mean the world to me for my grandkids to see the oceans how they used to be, filled with fish, with capelin.” – Don Kippenhuck, Charlottetown, NunatuKavut

Saltwire oped capelin

“[Capelin] belongs to us all, isn’t it time that we start managing it right and get this great breadbasket back to what it was? We owe it to our children and grandchildren.” – (Ret.) Capt. Wilfred Bartlett, Conception Bay South

capelin op ed opinion

“How can we ever hope to have a sustainable fishery for cod, salmon, redfish, turbot, seals, etc. when we are destroying the very thing that keeps them alive – the capelin!”- Rick Maddigan St. John’s

Market research:

We wanted to learn more about what residents of Newfoundland and Labrador thought about capelin and its role in the larger ecosystem. In 2023, polling commissioned by Oceana Canada from leading market research firm Abacus Data found that the overwhelming majority – 84 per cent – care deeply about rebuilding local ocean ecosystems and support pausing the commercial capelin fishery until the population recovers.

Oceana Canada’s research also found that an overwhelming 82 per cent of residents of Newfoundland and Labrador feel the Canadian government should do more to protect and manage fish populations like capelin to benefit local ecosystems, culture and the fishing industry.

Check out the polling full results here.


Watch this short video series highlighting the perspectives and voices of people in Newfoundland and Labrador. These videos were produced by Oceana Canada with support from locals who volunteered their time to share why they care deeply about capelin.

The people have spoken. And now it’s time for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to act with the urgency the situation requires. To rebuild capelin, the commercial fishery must be closed until measures are put in place to help it recover.

More fish is better for the oceans, for people and for our planet. Just ask Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, they’ll tell you they want a future where there is plenty of fish in the sea.

If you would like to add your voice to the conversation, consider signing our petition. Every signature sends a direct email to government officials responsible for managing the capelin fishery. Sign the petition here >>