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MEDIA RELEASE: Capelin Science Update Fails to Address Significant Gaps in Data 

March 24, 2022

March 24, 2020

ST. JOHN’S, NL – Fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador are raising serious concerns over the lack of data and an inadequate science review process by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the serious implications it may have on upcoming fisheries. Today’s capelin science update provided by DFO included no industry participation this year – most notably a lack of input by fish harvesters who observe capelin abundance distribution and spawning activities during their fishing activity.

“Fish harvesters spend their lives on the water and have an intimate knowledge of fish patterns that is simply not captured by DFO surveys. This year, DFO’s RV survey was incomplete, there was no capelin acoustic survey in 2020, and the 2021 acoustic survey cannot be used in the time series. This means harvesters’ observations are even more critical to assessing the health of the stock to the best of our ability,” explains FFAW-Unifor Keith Sullivan. “DFO Management will now take the advice of their scientists to set quotas for the upcoming season. This is closed-shop way of doing things is unproductive and threatens the industry as a whole,” Sullivan warns.

Dennis Chaulk has been a fish harvester for over 27 years and fishes out of Bonavista Bay. Over the years, Chaulk has observed an increase in more deep-water spawning, or demersal spawning, and has brought those observations to previous stock assessments.

“In 2021 the fish moved into the bay sooner than usual, and this is becoming a regular pattern. By the time the fishery opened, we noted that the fish we were catching were more mature and were settled on the bottom prepared for spawning. I believe demersal spawning took place on the western side of the bay last year earlier than usual. I observed more capelin during industry sampling on July 6 than what I saw during the fishing period over a week later,” says Chaulk.

Glen Newbury, who fishes out of Green Bay, agrees with Chaulk that capelin are entering the bays sooner than usual for spawning. “Capelin came into Green Bay about two weeks earlier than in 2020 and the years previous. Most enterprises were able to harvest their quotas, but on our last day fishing we noted that many of the fish had already spawned by that point.”

Excluding fish harvesters from these conversations only serves to drive a wedge between what could otherwise be a productive relationship between industry and science.

“The lack of stakeholder engagement by DFO is deeply concerning for us as fish harvesters. DFO Science is supposed to be unbiased and transparent, but when we see so many environmentalists being hired directly from ENGO’s that are actively trying to shut the capelin fishery down, while our own input is excluded, it’s clear that’s not the case. Whether it’s a full assessment or partial update, industry views are critical to providing a comprehensive evaluation of the health of the stock and excluding us is only further fracturing the relationship between fish harvesters and scientists,” says Robbie Green, who is a fish harvester from Portugal Cove-St. Philips.

The Union representing fish harvesters in the province is asking for a formal meeting between DFO and fish harvesters to discuss how these significant gaps in science will affect DFO’s ability to assess capelin this year and in the future. The Union is also calling on the Minister to implement a collaborative approach that will ensure the important observations and opinions are fish harvesters are taken into consideration during the assessment process.



For media inquiries, please contact:


Courtney Glode (she/her)

FFAW-Unifor Communications