Capelin stock in dis­tress

The Compass - - OPINION -

bu­reau­crats have me­thod­i­cally re­duced our fish­ery sci­ence ca­pa­bil­ity to al­most to­tal in­ef­fec­tive­ness. What is even more dis­turb­ing is the doc­u­mented fact that prac­ti­cally ev­ery other fish species un­der DFO man­age­ment is in the same state as that of the capelin species.

While its very en­cour­ag­ing to note that the Govern­ment of New­found­land and Labrador has re­cently an­nounced a fish­ery sci­ence pro­gram led by the ex­pe­ri­enced sci­en­tist Dr. Ge­orge Rose, the re­cently an­nounced “Ecosys­tem Re­search Ini­tia­tive” by DFO can­not be ac­com­plished un­less DFO’s sci­en­tific ca­pa­bil­ity is re­stored to its pre-mora­to­rium level. The mag­ni­tude of the task to as­sess the va­ri­ety of fish species re­quires a ma­jor sci­ence pro­gram and the pro­fes­sional per­son­nel and sup­port staff to ef­fec­tively com­plete the work.

Ac­cord­ing to the DFO web­site, the catches of capelin around New­found­land have to­talled more than 24,000 tonnes so far in 2010, mak­ing it cur­rently the largest fish­ery in New­found­land.

The last full sci­en­tific as­sess­ment of New­found­land capelin was in 2001. Since then, the New­found­land sci­ence pelagic sec­tion has lost two out of the three PhD re­search sci­en­tists in the group through re­tire­ment ( Dr. Ge­orge Win­ters and Dr. Jim Carscad­den). Nei­ther was re­placed. In­stead, their po­si­tions were cut as a cost-sav­ing mea­sure. Dr. Carscad­den is con­sid­ered an in­ter­na­tional ex­pert on capelin, and Dr. Win­ters pro­vided vi­tal quan­ti­ta­tive skills.

Also, since 2001, es­sen­tial longterm sur­vey se­ries needed for capelin stock as­sess­ments have been cut. A 2008 DFO sci­ence update on the sta­tus of the stock re­ported that there were “/no re­cent es­ti­mates of abun­dance avail­able for the en­tire stock, how­ever a spring acous­tic sur­vey cov­er­ing an in­dex area had es­ti­mated abun­dances that are con­sid­er­ably lower than those de­rived in the late 1980s. Be­cause of the un­cer­tainty of the level of ex­ploita­tion on this stock and the im­por­tance of capelin as a key for­age species, cau­tion is ad­vised/.”

A fur­ther DFO update in 2009 noted that “/ due to the elim­i­na­tion of the fall capelin acous­tic sur­vey in Div. 2J3K, the aerial sur­vey of spawn­ing schools, the off­shore fall ju­ve­nile sur­vey, and the re­duc­tion in the num­ber of spawn­ing beach sur­veys from seven to one … a quan­ti­ta­tive as­sess­ment of capelin abun­dance in Sub­area 2 and// Div. 3KL is no longer pos­si­ble./”

Is capelin im­por­tant in the ecosys­tem? A re­port pub­lished in 2009 on the DFO web­site ti­tled “Prob­ing key con­nec­tions in the New­found­land and Labrador ma­rine ecosys­tem” em­pha­sizes the im­por­tance of capelin as a key species: “/These fatty, en­ergy-dense fish are key prey for cod and other ground­fish and a crit­i­cal con­nec­tor be­tween pri­mary and sec­ondary pro­duc­tion (zoo­plank­ton and phy­to­plank­ton) and the up­per lev­els of the ma­rine food web, in­clud­ing large fish, ma­rine mam­mals and seabirds … knowl­edge of capelin is crit­i­cal to un­der­stand­ing how the ecosys­tem is go­ing to de­velop/.”

Note that there is only one sci­en­tist in the New­found­land re­gion work­ing on these im­por­tant ecosys­tem link­ages — Dr. Koen-Al­lonso, un­der the “Ecosys­tem Re­search Ini­tia­tive,” re­cently touted in the me­dia by DFO sci­ence di­rec­tor Barry McCal­lum as a ma­jor new re­search ini­tia­tive of which he is “par­tic­u­larly proud.” One per­son can’t make much head­way given an ecosys­tem as large and as com­plex as the one off New­foundl and. I t n eed s a team re­searchers to make progress.

With no sci­en­tific as­sess­ment of the capelin stock and min­i­mal ecosys­tem re­search on the im­pact of capelin on cod stocks and other ground­fish species, DFO fish­eries man­age­ment has very lit­tle to work with. What is the sci­en­tific ba­sis for the cur­rent 41,691 tonne man­age­ment quota? Is it

pre­cau­tion­ary? Is it sus­tain­able? Is it low enough to al­low re­cov­ery of the capelin stock and the ground­fish stocks that de­pend on it for food?

Gus Etchegary Chair­man, Fish­eries Com­mu­nity Al­liance

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