Capelin stock in distress
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