Oceana Canada finds capelin to be critically depleted and overfished, calls for a fishery closure to help rebuild the population
Fisheries and Oceans Canada is expected to announce a quota decision soon for NAFO Area 2J3KL capelin, Newfoundland and Labrador, a stock that’s been critically depleted for more than 30 years.
Press Release Date: April 27, 2022
OTTAWA, April 27, 2022 – New research by Oceana Canada provides compelling evidence that capelin (NAFO Area 2J3KL) — one of the main food sources for many species of fish, seabirds and marine mammals in the waters of Newfoundland and Labrador — is critically depleted and overfished. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) classifies the health status of this stock as uncertain yet acknowledges that it is in a precarious state.
Heavy fishing pressure on this collapsed population causes harm to the ecosystem and contributes to a poor outlook for the future of this fishery. Oceana Canada is calling on DFO to close the fishery until it can demonstrate the population is growing out of the critical zone. This will require investment in capelin research and developing reference points and a rebuilding plan. Future harvest levels, once the population recovers, must take into consideration the essential contributions capelin play as prey for other species, including critically depleted northern cod.
“This stock has a dire outlook, which would be devastating for northeastern Newfoundland and Labrador coastal communities,” said Dr. Robert Rangeley, Oceana Canada’s Science Director. “In advance of DFO’s quota announcement, we are calling for a management shift that prioritizes a return to abundance and is in line with decisions already made for other critically depleted forage fish, such as Pacific and Atlantic herring and Atlantic mackerel. We need more capelin to be left in the ocean right now, to ensure this population can support a thriving coastal ecosystem and the social, cultural and economic benefits that come alongside this.”
Oceana Canada’s latest assessment gives 2J3KL capelin the provisional health status of critical. Under DFO’s “Precautionary Approach,” this means that conservation action must take precedence. This policy also states that the absence of scientific information is not a reason to avoid doing serious harm to a stock. In addition to closing the fishery, DFO must also invest resources into estimating spawning biomass of capelin and establishing reference points to inform management decisions.
Capelin populations have been in a collapsed state for more than 30 years, yet a fishery has still been allowed to operate, targeting the roe (or eggs) of the females. This removes not just the female fish from the population but all of the eggs that would support future population recovery. Last year, DFO reduced the quota for 2J3KL capelin by 25 per cent (from 19,377 metric tonnes to 14,842 metric tonnes). While a step in the right direction, it is not enough to allow the population to recover to health. The 2021 quota was still higher than this critically depleted population can withstand, preventing population recovery.
“Capelin plays an incredibly important role as a forage fish in the ecosystem,” said Dr. Rangeley. “Growing the stock to a healthy abundance will dramatically improve the prospects of other crucial fisheries in northeastern Newfoundland in the long term.”
Read the full report, Capelin in Crisis: Urgent Action Needed to Rebuild Abundance. To request an interview with Dr. Robert Rangeley please contact:
Oceana Canada was established as an independent charity in 2015 and is part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana Canada has successfully campaigned to end the shark fin trade, make rebuilding depleted fish populations the law, improve the way fisheries are managed and protect marine habitat. We work with civil society, academics, fishers, Indigenous Peoples and the federal government to return Canada’s formerly vibrant oceans to health and abundance. By restoring Canada’s oceans, we can strengthen our communities, reap greater economic and nutritional benefits and protect our future.