Researchers are keeping a close eye on how capelin are spawning and developing off the waters of Newfoundland.

Scientists have flocked to Bellevue Beach in Trinity Bay — one of the most important capelin spawning areas in the province — to find out why the fish are thriving in these waters.

"This beach is a very large beach, of course. It's a northeast-facing beach, which research in the past on various beaches around has shown to be the best beaches for spawning and for larval survival," said Brad Squires, a research technician with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Capelin in Bellevue NL

Bellevue Beach in Trinity Bay is one of the most important capelin spawning areas in Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

"Larval survival seems to be the single most important thing with respect to having a good stock years into the future."

The commercial capelin fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador was worth just over $6 million in 2013.

But for some, the worth of the species in the ocean food chain is considered priceless.

"Capelin is the forage species that drives it all. Everything [eats] the capelin — the whales and the birds, and so on and so forth. As well as a forage species, it's also a fishery that's commercial species, right, so you don't want to wipe it out," said Barry Slaney, another DFO research technician.

In recent years, budgets for federal fisheries science have been squeezed, forcing researchers to be more innovative. This includes everything from advanced technology, like an underwater, remote-operated vehicle, to less advanced means, like cobbling together a net and hoop to capture capelin larvae off the ocean's floor.

Barry Slaney DFO research technician

Barry Slaney, a research technician with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said capelin are the forage species that drives the ocean's food chain. (CBC)

"This year, we got offshore winds and the water is cold, and so far, the larvae haven't been developing, especially in the offshore beds," Slaney said. 

"We're tracking larvae now, and we expect a lot of that is coming from the beach. So it's ongoing, day to day, and every second, third day, we're out here trying to capture them and get an idea of what's surviving. That's the goal of this part of it anyway."

The data being collected on the Bellevue capelin is considered to be crucial.

It will be used to help fisheries managers to determine everything from quotas, to fishing seasons.

In recent years, capelin appear to be coming in to spawn a bit earlier, and the fish themselves have been larger. But with things changing rapidly in waters around the province, it's not always easy to monitor what's happening.

"It changes all the time. Every year is different, and you know, it's unpredictable," Slaney said. 

"It's a hard job to predict what nature is going to do."

With files from Jamie Baker