Goose Cove fisherman Maxwell Sexton can recall the days when capelin would fill the shores before children got out of school for the summer. Now he says he doesn’t expect to see a capelin fishery open for fishermen in the area this year.
“They’ve been on the decline for years and years; I’d say we won’t get nothing now,” Sexton said. “The capelin are scarce, the shrimp are scarce – it seems like it’s all been scraped out.”
Jason Spingle, area representative for the Fish, Food, and Allied Workers Union, says while there’s been some decent signs of capelin along the east side of the island, Peninsula and Labrador Straits capelin showings have ranged from minuscule to nought.
“In the gulf it’s been pretty bleak, probably the worst sign ever,” said Spingle. “There’s been a general decline in the abundance, but this year’s been more extreme.”
Some Northern Peninsula crab fishermen noted signs of capelin in early June, but with no gear ready, they were not fished.
Englee fisherman Larry Cull says these June signs use to be considered the first run of capelin, but in recent years it seems the capelin are all coming in one run.
“If you don’t catch them in that window, they don’t come again,” he said.
Capelin is a food source for many species in the Atlantic waters, particularly cod. Spingle says the common understanding is just about everything eats capelin, and the state of this species can have a major impact on the rest of the ocean food chain.
Both Cull and Sexton have seen this lack of capelin reflected in their cod catches. A common sight when cleaning cod fish is to see their bellies blown up with fresh capelin, but both the Goose Cove and Englee fishermen have yet to see that this summer.
Sexton says the cod he’s sliced open in his area have been filled with mostly herring and even mackerel - all fresh enough to take for bait. The cod in the nets Cull has been hoisting up have been filled with everything from crab, shrimp and turbot, but not a sign of fresh capelin. He says it sends a message that something is wrong.
It’s also clear the cod are not finding capelin in west coast waters.
Now in the final weeks of summer, Sexton and Cull don’t expect to see capelin, and the Northern Peninsula will likely be without a capelin fishery.
“My faith is gone for this year,” said Cull. “This is not June month anymore, I don’t expect to see any.”
With a steady decline in profit from its capture, and a general fear they are taking away from the food source of many other ground fish, the capelin fishery has been a concern for fishermen across the island for some time.
Now that this year is showing a particularly high level of uncertainty, Spingle says the state of the capelin fishery is expected to be an increased focal point for future discussion.
“They’ve shown up in August before but a lot of harvesters feel that it’s getting late,” Spingle said. “There’s varying opinions on what level of concern this is, but the concern is there – particularly this year.”