Atlantic Canadians know how important the ocean is and that fish play a mighty role in keeping the marine ecosystem healthy. One little fish, capelin, plays a particularly large role. As a forage fish, capelin is food for countless marine animals – from big whales like humpbacks and belugas to seabirds like puffins and gannets, and even other fish including cod. This means that when capelin declines, a lot of other marine life is impacted too. And, with a critically depleted capelin population off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, this is exactly what has happened.
Capelin has been depleted and overfished for 30 years. Continued fishing with little to no action from the government has allowed the population to languish, with the impacts reverberating through the wider marine ecosystem. But what’s new this year is their health status. For the first time, capelin have been given one, officially naming what many have been calling out for decades: the population is critically depleted.
Populations in the critical zone, according to Canada’s Fisheries Act, must have a plan to see them rebuild and fisheries decisions should prioritize conservation action to bring them back to health. A fishery closure is an unfortunate but necessary decision, the last step in the government’s toolbox after many years of mismanagement.
Oceana Canada wanted to learn more about what residents of Newfoundland and Labrador thought about capelin and its role in the larger ecosystem. Residents from the province were polled and the responses 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.
The population collapsed in the 1990s and has never been given the chance to recover. Despite how vital capelin is, a commercial fishery is still allowed to operate, targeting the eggs of female capelin. Not only are adults removed from the population, but the next generation is lost too.
Capelin is essential for a healthy ecosystem and an important part of the community, culture and economy of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The evidence is clear. 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 the population recovers to healthy levels.
More fish is better for the oceans, for people and for our planet. Just Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, they’ll tell you they want a future where there is plenty of fish in the sea. To learn more and help take action for capelin, visit our campaign page here >>