Capelin Fishery “Pause” Not Necessary

Seafood producers (harvesters and processors) respect and value the work of the researchers and scientists at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who play an essential role in keeping our fisheries sustainable.

However, in capelin and many other fisheries, a present state of alarmism simply overrides harvesters and processors’ input, dismissing generations’ worth of lived experience.

Last year, capelin was a very small fishery of 16,000 tonnes. Activists argue with apparent moral certainty that these fish are better off in the ocean. It is convenient for them to overlook the life cycle of capelin and the relative size of the fishery — but these are things we must consider.

First of all, DFO’s data suggests that seals alone are eating 900,000–1,200,000 tonnes of capelin annually. The same data shows that birds, turbot and cod easily consume another 500,000-plus tonnes. This comfortably puts our capelin fishery at around one per cent of this predator mortality.

Second, would we gain anything by actually stopping the fishery? Consider the life cycle of capelin. Had we not fished our 16,000-tonne quota, some 75 per cent of this fish would have reached the end of its life cycle and perished within a few weeks of the fishery. Then, of 4,000 tonnes remaining, another 20 per cent would perish before spawning the following year, leaving approximately 3,200 tonnes surviving (half of which would be males).

Meanwhile, there are good signs in the fishery.

DFO’s recent science report states that the total amount of capelin available in 2021 is likely to be similar to 2020, with a possibility of increase. It also states that the physical condition of capelin in fall 2020 was the best in 23 years, suggesting improved survivability.

This is our most up-to-date information. Biomass is unknown, last estimated (in 2019, since 2020 was missed) at no less than 500,000 tonnes for the limited surveyed area — but the accuracy of this estimate is clearly off by an order of magnitude. Otherwise, how can seals and other predators consume so much capelin and yet we still have so much of it available?

Of course, trends are what fisheries scientists emphasize — not accuracy. “All models are wrong; some models are useful,” so the saying goes.

Unfortunately, this gets understated or remains uncontextualized in the public discussion. The latest newspeak from environmentalist-NGOs tells us we need to “pause” the capelin fishery, just to make sure all of the seals, whales, seabirds and finfish get enough (and hopefully will spare some for the fishery). The former wisdom of “don’t fish down the food chain,” is now the inverse: “don’t fish up the food chain.”

It’s all very outrageous, not the least because rural communities are part of this ecosystem. Harvesters and plant workers have the biggest direct stake in conservation.

Without a commercial fishery, our meagre ability to collect data and expand current science on this valuable resource basically does not exist. Thousands of livelihoods hang in the balance here. We do not need to put them on “pause.” We need instead to hear from the people with first-hand experience and knowledge to share. We need to come together to support science work, and more of it.

We need to conserve our fishery, for everyone and every living thing depending on it.


Bill Barry
Corner Brook, N.L.

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