Ocean Defenders Call for Closure of Capelin Fishery in NL
Looking at travel ads for Newfoundland and Labrador, you might come across a photo or two of a puffin or a whale with little silvery fish sticking out of its mouth. This is capelin, a fast-growing oily species that is an integral part of the North Atlantic food chain and ecosystem. They are also overfished, and without proper action scientists fear the stock could face extinction.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) estimates that the number of capelin today is about 6% of what the population was before the stock began to collapse in the 1990s. This number is not sustainable, and an immediate closure of the fishery is the only option that could allow the fish to recover, said Robert Rangeley, marine biologist and chief science officer of Oceana Canada.
“It’s unfortunate. It’s the result of past fisheries management decisions. Nobody, including Oceana, wants to see the fishery closed,” he said. “But it’s a solution that works.”
The Canadian-based NGO published a report Thursday explaining why a shutdown is the only way forward. Rangeley acknowledged it was a tough decision, but DFO recently made a decision about the east coast herring and mackerel fishery. The department is expected to announce a quota for capelin in the coming months.
Claire Teichman, DFO press secretary, said in an emailed statement that capelin is important to fisheries, as well as ocean ecosystems and that the minister uses the “best science available” to make decisions about peaches. DFO has reduced the capelin quota in 2021 by 25%.
“The department consults and collaborates with Indigenous communities, industry and fishers, scientists and other stakeholders when making decisions about fish management,” Teichman said. “No decision has been made on this stock.”
The capelin fishing industry currently harvests eggs from females, which means these adult fish don’t have a chance to spawn, and DFO research shows that larval production is below average. But there isn’t enough data to give a full picture of the population, and DFO needs to dedicate resources to more research, Rangeley said.
To make decisions about fisheries, DFO uses its Precautionary approach framework, which includes “being cautious when scientific knowledge is uncertain and not using the absence of adequate scientific information as a reason to postpone action…” Rangeley said DFO is going against this framework by not closing not the capelin fishery. Under those guidelines, a healthy stock should be 900,000 tonnes, compared to last year’s capelin quota of 13,000 tonnes, Rangeley said.
This is not the first time that we have called for the closure of the capelin fishery. Past calls from Oceana Canada have been met with enormous resistance from the province’s fishermen’s union, which said it would be a hasty move it would harm their livelihoods.
DFO estimates that capelin numbers today are about 6% of what the population was before the stock began to collapse in the 1990s. This number is not sustainable, and an immediate halt to fishing is the only way forward, say advocates.
The NunatuKavut Community Council, which represents NunatuKavut Inuit residing primarily in southern and central Labrador, supports a full closure. Chairman Todd Russell said the council has been calling for more protection for capelin since stocks began to decline in the 1990s.
He says Inuit in the region have long noticed fewer and fewer capelin spawning on the Labrador coast – the fish lay their eggs on the beaches and the hatchlings stay on land for about a week before returning to sea. .
“Thanks to our traditional knowledge of several generations and our participation in the fishery from a food point of view mainly, but also in the commercial context, we know how vital capelin are,” he said.
“People say time and time again that capelin is one of the best indicators of a healthy ecosystem and healthy fish resources. So it all depends on the capelin.