It has been three decades since the capelin off northeastern Newfoundland and Labrador collapsed. Despite this, there continues to be a capelin fishery on this stock, while species that depend on them, such as Atlantic cod, are starving. It’s time to pause the capelin fishery until management measures are put in place to ensure the long-term health of this population.
What are capelin?
Capelin are a small, slender fish that are a type of forage fish. Forage fish make up the majority of the marine vertebrates, or species with backbones, and they provide an important pathway for energy to move through the ocean. By eating small, millimeter-sized, plankton and then being eaten by larger animals, forage fish provide a unique role in the ecosystem. Whales, cod and puffins all depend on this little fish.
In the early 1990s, the capelin stock collapsed. Today, the estimated amount of capelin is still only at six per cent of pre-collapse estimates. According to the most recent assessment by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the Newfoundland and Labrador shelf capelin population is still extremely low.
We know that forage fish like capelin are essential to rebuilding an abundance of life in the ocean, that’s why they need to be carefully managed.
Pause the fishery
After the government’s assessment of the stock, a quota will be announced which sets the amount of fish that can be harvested this year. Given the importance of capelin to the ocean and their incredibly low population levels as reported by DFO, Oceana Canada is calling on Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to immediately pause the capelin fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador. The few capelin that remain are extremely valuable and must be left in the ocean.
One of the problems with rebuilding capelin populations, according to DFO, is that they are not producing enough eggs and larvae. Pausing the fishery would address this. The current fishery harvests over 16,000 tonnes of capelin – that’s over a billion fish taken before they can reproduce. Those females would have produced trillions of eggs – literally. Continued fishing pressure will hinder the population’s chances for recovery. The capelin fishery should be paused until the stock recovers, reference points are established to determine safe harvest levels and precautionary quotas set that are lower than other fisheries based on capelin’s vital role in the ecosystem.
The foundation of Canada’s blue economy is our wild fish populations but concerningly many of these stocks are depleted. It’s time to change that by prioritizing rebuilding our fisheries and marine ecosystems. You can help make this happen. Please contact Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan through our petition and tell the government to rebuild depleted fish populations.