March 17, 2021 – The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) released a summary from the latest stock assessment for capelin in 2J3KL this week, indicating that the biomass index is near the long-term average and likely to be the same or have a slight increase in 2021. However, natural mortality by seals, finfish, seabirds, and other predators remains the largest factor in the stock’s health, with the capelin fishery having a historically low quota, taking 0.1% of the removals.
“The fishery is a very small proportion of removals in ecosystem, and we have set quotas to accommodate, including the lowest ever last year.,” said Dennis Chaulk, a harvester in 3L that attended the virtual capelin assessment.
“The challenge is not that the cod and turbot are feeding on the capelin,” noted Eldred Woodford, a harvester in 3K who also attended the assessment virtually. “Cod and turbot eating capelin are all part of a healthy marine ecosystem. The issue is that there is an overpopulation of harp seals consuming a high volume of capelin, with no significant natural predator to control that population.”
DFO acknowledged in its technical briefing that the biomass of 2J3KL capelin is primarily environmentally-driven, but did not have any specific figures to put forward on the impact of seals. A 2012 study by DFO’s Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat stated that in 2008 seals consumed 1.26 million tonnes of capelin. It is likely more than that now.
“By comparison, the commercial capelin landings in 2020 was less than 17 thousand tonnes – and very valuable to rural Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Keith Sullivan, FFAW-Unifor President. “You cannot advocate for the sustainability of a healthy capelin stock by removing commercial fisheries and not taking action to control the size of the seal herd”.
Harvesters are also concerned that biomass is not accurately measured, and may not reflect the total size of the capelin stock. Due to COVID-19, the Spring Acoustic Survey did not take place in 2020, and the assessment is based on the capelin forecast model.
“Science can’t measure the full biomass because they only have one vessel doing an acoustic survey in the spring of year, and it doesn’t cover the whole area,” continued Chaulk. FFAW and harvesters have offered to be a part of this much need work to get accurate measurements of overall biomass.
CLICK HERE to see the full presentation document provided by DFO this morning.
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