The resurgence of capelin along shores in northeast Labrador that hadn’t seen them in years sparked an initiative with Memorial University’s Marine Institute, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the World Wildlife Fund, and a variety of other organizations.
The groups share a common goal to better understand this species, which is the foundation of a healthy aquatic system.
Dr. Marie Clement, a research scientist based in Labrador Institute of Memorial University in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, hopes this collaborative effort will help determine the origins of the unexpected return of capelin to northeast Labrador.
“We’re testing our hypothesis that the capelin showing on the northeast shore are coming from Nunavut, rather than north Atlantic stock,” Clement said.
Clement is engaged in specifically studying phenotypes of the capelin, hoping to determine if certain characteristics show which area the capelin came from. It is one key objective to better understand a species and area where there are many gaps in knowledge.
“Capelin can be very sporadic,” Clement said. “They can spawn in one location and not the following year. Now they are often spawning for briefer periods of time and later in the year, particularly in Newfoundland.
“We need to gather this information to better understand the dynamics between each year.”
Under Clement’s supervision, student Chelsea Boaler is beginning some initial research in Labrador this summer.
Working on her PhD with Marine Institute’s new fishery science PhD program, Boaler is gathering samples and interviewing elders and harvesters of the coastal communities. She hopes to compare her interview work with the scientific data and analysis also being done.
“There’s a lot of gaps we have with capelin,” Boaler said. “The thing I’m looking most forward to is trying to figure out a meaningful way we can incorporate local ecological knowledge with the scientific work that’s happening through DFO and other academic institutions.”
Boaler is also being supervised by Dr. Grant Martin of Duke University, who is helping her develop the methodology for conducting interviews with locals. Thus far, she has gained a lot of information from casual conversations with fishermen on how capelin spawning has changed for the area over the years. She also hopes to study the contrast between those who fish capelin commercially and those who fish recreationally to put a meal on the table.
Boaler will be going to St. John’s to do her first semester of course work for the program in September, but will be back in Labrador in October and November for some initial presentations on her ongoing research.
Dr. Martin Castonguay, research scientist for the Institut Maruice-Lamontagne, says compared to the knowledge surrounding capelin along Newfoundland’s eastern coast, information regarding capelin stocks along the Labrador Straits and Northern Peninsula is minuscule.
“It’s been a quiet year for capelin from what I’ve been hearing,” said Castonguay. “And we realize we need to improve our research efforts.”
As well as playing a role in the work being done by Clement and Boaler, Castonguay says DFO is preparing an annual survey to determine the biomass index for the 4R fishing region, of which currently there is little data.
“It will be a new hydro acoustic survey every year to assess biomass in the gulf [of St. Lawrence],” he said. “I’m hoping it will start in 2018.”