Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Recover Capelin and Northern Cod by Pausing the Commercial Capelin Fishery

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, April 04, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Mi’kma’ki, traditional, unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People -- Today, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) met with representatives from the fishing industry, Indigenous rights holders, scientists and environmental groups including Oceana Canada to discuss this year’s fishing quota for the severely depleted capelin fishery (NAFO area 2J3KL), a primary food source for Newfoundland and Labrador marine ecosystems. This follows news that capelin is now out of the critical zone because of lowering the threshold that determines the critical zone designation, rather than an increase in the number of fish in the water. Below, Oceana Canada outlines what is needed to rebuild this vital fishery.

Topline: Capelin is still depleted at just 9 per cent of its historical biomass and must be rebuilt for the ocean, marine life and coastal community health. A new reference point that determines the point at which the population can be considered critically depleted has been lowered from 640 to 155 kilotonnes, now placing capelin in the cautious zone. This is in response to an updated science assessment of northern cod and has led to calls from some members of the fishing industry to increase commercial capelin fishing quotas instead of allowing the population to rebuild to the healthy zone.

Capelin has failed to adequately recover over the last 32 years. As a participating member of DFO’s 2J3KL Capelin Advisory Committee, Oceana Canada recommends pausing the fishery until management measures are in place to support its recovery for the long-term health of the ocean ecosystem.

Critical Quote: “Good fisheries management intends to maintain healthy populations, not manage them right at the threshold of disaster. We cannot allow success to be just crawling above the limit reference point (LRP). DFO must proceed with caution and prioritize actions that rebuild this forage fish to abundance,” said Jack Daly, Marine Scientist, Oceana Canada. “Forage fish are essential for ocean health. Capelin are food for species that support the tourism industry such as puffins and whales. They are also important for local food consumption and culture including the annual capelin roll spectacle.”

Connection to Cod: The economic viability of a future 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.

Big Numbers:

  • Capelin has been critically depleted and overfished for the last 30 years.
  • 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 20231).
  • 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.

What We Don’t Know:
Capelin lacks an Upper Stock Reference to determine a healthy population size, a management plan and other science-based indicators that should be used to inform management decisions and support rebuilding the population to healthy. Without this information, DFO continues to manage capelin in the dark, a trend that has allowed overfishing to continue for the last three decades.

History: Capelin have been harvested in and around the waters of Newfoundland and Labrador for hundreds of years if not longer, originally by First Nations and Indigenous communities, and then by settler communities who relied on capelin for food, bait and fertilizer. In the early 1980s, capelin began being targeted for their eggs and exported overseas. Unfortunately, the stock collapsed in the early 1990s, along with the collapse of several groundfish species in Atlantic Canada. Capelin has failed to recover in the last 30 years due to overfishing and mismanagement. Since 2021, nearly 15,000 metric tonnes of capelin have been allocated to the commercial fishery annually, which could represent up to half a billion individual female capelin and up to 21 trillion eggs being removed from the ocean every year. This type of harvest not only removes reproductive adults from the population but hampers recruitment by shrinking the contribution of new larvae to the next generation.

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

Media contacts: Vaishali Dassani, Oceana Canada,, 647-294-3335;
Angela Pinzon, Pilot PMR,, 647-295-0517 

A survey of 1,750 Canadians conducted by Abacus Data on behalf of Oceana Canada between April 28 and May 3, 2023