Oceana Canada to DFO: Failure to Rebuild – Keeping the Capelin Fishery Open Continues Decades of Mismanagement - Oceana Canada

Oceana Canada to DFO: Failure to Rebuild – Keeping the Capelin Fishery Open Continues Decades of Mismanagement

Press Release Date: June 4, 2024

Media contacts: Vaishali Dassani, Oceana Canada, vdassani@oceana.ca, 647-294-3335;
Angela Pinzon, Pilot PMR, angela.pinzon@pilotpmr.com, 647-295-0517

Halifax, NS, Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People – Today, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced that it will continue to allow commercial fishing on the overfished and heavily depleted capelin population in northeast Newfoundland and Labrador by maintaining 2023 harvest quota of 14,533 tonnes. This decision ignores science, policy guidance, and importantly, community voices that have called attention to the essential role capelin play in feeding the ocean ecosystem and the economy. Below, Oceana Canada outlines how this decision fails to rebuild capelin populations.


The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Diane Lebouthillier, announced a 14,533 tonne quota for the 2024 commercial capelin season. This decision comes as the latest assessment confirmed that the population continues to stagnate, which also hinders rebuilding the potentially lucrative northern cod fishery. Although Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have mobilized this year to ask the government to change how this fishery is managed, the government decided to side with a small number of voices representing the commercial fishery, a decision that will prevent rebuilding this critical forage fish population and everything else that relies on it.

Capelin has failed to adequately recover over the past 33 years, in part due to fisheries mismanagement. As a participating member of the 2J3KL Capelin Advisory Committee, Oceana Canada recommended pausing the commercial fishery in the short-term to allow for DFO to institute modern management measures for this stock, including harvest control rules and an upper stock reference point.

Canada’s Fisheries Act mandates that all major fish stocks be managed at sustainable levels. While some species like capelin, are still waiting to receive protection under the Act’s rebuilding provisions, others, such as Atlantic mackerel, are already benefiting. This inconsistent management approach for Atlantic forage fish threatens the recovery of these fisheries.  Oceana Canada calls on Fisheries Minister Lebouthillier to make decisions that better support ocean ecosystems, our economy and coastal communities, rather than continuing to fail to rebuild capelin, the basis of healthy ocean ecosystems.

Critical Quote:

“Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier has ignored the voices of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who wanted to see the capelin fishery paused so it can rebuild for the benefit of all. She also ignored the science, that shows the primary reason northern cod has not recovered is due to a lack of capelin, which has been overfished for decades,” said Jack Daly, Marine Scientist, Oceana Canada. “This decision shows that the government of Canada is satisfied with the status quo of fisheries mismanagement, benefitting only a few at a cost to everyone. Forage fish, like capelin provide, an essential connection to the ocean for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, a connection that continues to be threatened by short-sighted decision-making.”

Impact on northern cod:
The economic viability of a future commercial cod fishery depends on recovering capelin as a source of food. In DFO’s recent northern cod science assessment, the availability of capelin was identified as the single biggest factor impeding its recovery. Northern cod and capelin populations have stabilized at low levels since 2017, meaning that more capelin is needed for cod to grow. The current ecological and biological indicators for cod are alarming, with high levels of natural mortality, decline in weight and length at age, stagnant or negative surplus production, and insufficient capelin availability. This decision to allow continued overfishing of depleted capelin further hampers the government’s efforts to rebuild the iconic northern cod population.

Next steps:

Now that Minister Lebouthillier has announced the 2024 capelin commercial fishery quota, Oceana Canada urges Fisheries and Oceans Canada to fulfill its commitment to modernizing the management of this stock by:

  • Immediately adding the 2J3KL capelin stock to the Fish Stock Provisions of the Fisheries Act;
  • Developing a Precautionary Approach Working Group for this stock by the end of this year; and
  • Implementing modern fisheries management protocols for this stock, in line with the department’s Fishery Monitoring Policy.

Big Numbers:

  • The capelin population is at just 9% of its historical abundance.
  • 84% of Newfoundland and Labrador residents support pausing the commercial capelin fishery to let the population grow (survey in April 2023).
  • 82% of these residents agree that the federal government should be doing more to protect and manage fish populations like capelin that feed large ocean ecosystems.
  • The capelin fishery lacks a robust market to be economically viable. Only 78% of the capelin quota was fished in 2023 and 0% in 2022.

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 ban single-use plastics, 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. Find out more at www.oceana.ca.