Fisheries & Oceans Canada Is Failing Forage Fish; Capelin Quota Too High, Says Oceana Canada

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Commercially, capelin is used for fish meal and oil industry products, but is also appreciated as food. Picture: Oceana Canada

HALIFAX: Oceana Canada has issued a statement that it is disappointed with the announcement from Fisheries and Oceans Canada on the 2021 quota for NAFO Area 2J3KL capelin – one of the main food sources for many species of fish, sea birds and marine mammals along Canada’s northeast coast Dr. Robert Rangeley, Science Director of Oceana Canada said: “Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s capelin quota decision does not go far enough to reduce the risk of overfishing on this severely depleted yet crucially important forage fish.

This decision risks not only the future of capelin but all the other marine life and the livelihoods it supports. He said it was disappointing to see that Fisheries and Oceans Canada is allowing a fishery of this scale to continue, despite strong scientific evidence and advice to close it until management best practices are applied and the stock recovers.

“Future decisions must reflect capelin’s incredibly important ecosystem role as a forage fish and include a minimum biomass cut-off, below which no capelin can be harvested, and maximum harvest cap,” he pointed out Capelin is a key species in the Newfoundland and Labrador ecosystem as a food source to many marine mammals, such as whales and seabirds, and larger fish, like cod.

In recent years, traditionally abundant and lucrative northern cod has been described as starving, or skinny, and scientists have observed cod cannibalizing its young, due in part to a lack of capelin. Dr. Rangeley said: “DFO has also announced an increase in the annual harvest quota for northern cod, perpetuating an inexcusable pattern of unsustainable harvest practices on both cod and capelin stocks.

“Data over the last few years shows capelin is returning smaller and spawning later, which is linked with lower spawning success – 2020 was the lowest spawning year on record.

“While the small reduction in quota announced does alleviate some pressure on the critically depleted stock, this decision still means removing 14,533 tonnes of an essential forage fish before it has a chance to spawn and contribute to the next generation.

This quota also maintains this commercial fishery’s status as one of the largest wild-caught forage fisheries in Canada in terms of harvested biomass. There has been minimal recovery since the 2J3KL capelin stock collapsed in 1990-91 and it is currently at only six per cent of its biomass before collapse.

Oceana Canada has urged Minister Jordan to manage capelin and other forage fish species so that the future recruitment of the stocks is not impaired and that food supplies for their dependent predators are not depleted.

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada needs to increase investment in the science and develop a precautionary management approach for capelin.”

Forage fish such as capelin form the foundation of healthy ocean ecosystems. Recent assessment showed that the 2J3KL capelin stock size remains at low levels with a poor outlook.

This finding will now be used to inform management decisions, including setting a quota for capelin that can be harvested this season. It has been three decades since this stock collapsed in the early 1990s, and today the biomass index is still only six per cent of pre-collapse estimates.

Yet, there continues to be a capelin fishery, while species that depend on them, such as cod, are starving. Oceana Canada is an independent charity established to restore Canadian oceans to be as rich, healthy, and abundant as they once were Oceana Canada is affiliated with the international family of Oceana organizations.

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