Capelin catch increase ‘shortsighted,’ says WWF-Canada
Capelin (Mallotus villosus) spawning on a beach in Newfoundland, Canada
A precautionary approach to managing the important forage fish in Newfoundland and Labrador is essential
ST. JOHN’S, N.L., July 4, 2019 — World Wildlife Fund Canada is concerned that a capelin catch increase in Newfoundland and Labrador is a step backwards in ecosystem-based fisheries management. The capelin abundance remains at a low level, limiting food availability for Atlantic cod, whales and seabirds, which are vital to the local culture, history and economy of the province.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is upping the 2019 Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of capelin in eastern and southern N.L. by 15 per cent.
“It is a shortsighted decision at this critical time. DFO’s forecast model for capelin, based on current ecosystem and stock condition, predicts that abundance will decrease again in 2020. This quota increase seems to be a hasty response to a small upward blip in the abundance index for 2019,” said Sigrid Kuehnemund, Vice President of Oceans at WWF-Canada.
“There is insufficient rationale to increase the catch at such a precipitous time. The abundance of this species is still incredibly low relative to pre-collapse levels in the 1990s, and is only at 25 per cent of its most recent high, which occurred in 2014. In an ecosystem-based approach, we should exercise restraint as capelin are an important food source for many rebuilding species, including Atlantic cod.”
Many factors suggest that capelin (and the species that depend on them for food) are still under threat:
- Phytoplankton and zooplankton levels are both down, which negatively impacts capelin abundance, as they feed on zooplankton;
- Capelin larval production has been poor in the last five years; and
- Capelin are maturing at younger ages and older capelin (ages 4, 5 and 6) are disappearing from the survey.
While there were increased observations of spawning in 2018 because capelin spawned over a more widespread area than in previous years, the productivity at all monitored sites was at an all-time series low. WWF-Canada cautions that a more precautionary approach is needed for the continued heath of the Newfoundland and Labrador shelf ecosystem.
• Capelin is a keystone species, playing an important role in the marine ecosystem as a food source for predators such as northern cod, whales and seabirds.
• Their overall population health depends first on ‘bottom up factors’ such as temperature, nutrients and plankton, and their numbers can fluctuate greatly in short order as they react to environmental changes.
The WWF-Canada Food for All
report found that three-quarters of forage fish fisheries in Canada are being managed without adequate information. Recent efforts by DFO to survey capelin populations are a positive step toward filling a major data gap in our knowledge on this species.
• Capelin can be seen “rolling” this time of year along beaches in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador where they spawn.
People living along the coasts of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador can identify capelin spawning habitat and contribute to the conservation of this species by reporting sightings of capelin rolling to ecapelin.ca
About World Wildlife Fund Canada
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit wwf.ca.
For further information
Communications specialist, WWF-Canada