PEI

Hundreds of dead fish on P.E.I.'s North Shore a natural occurrence

A mass of dead fish covering some of P.E.I.'s North Shore have been identified as capelin, and scientists say their death was a natural occurrence.

'This is a natural thing. Folks shouldn't be too worried'

Hundreds of dead capelin found along the North Shore. (Submitted )

A mass of dead fish covering some of P.E.I.'s North Shore have been identified as capelin, and scientists say their death was a natural occurrence.

"Capelin die naturally after they spawn. It's not a particularly common sighting on Prince Edward Island," said Sean Landsman, a PhD student at the University of Prince Edward Island with the Canadian Rivers Institute.

Landsman saw the dead fish in Cavendish along the beach around 7 p.m. Tuesday. He's researching spawning habits of fish on the Island and visited the beach at the request of the province. 

Although dead capelin along the beach are a rare sight on P.E.I., it's a natural occurrence because they die after they spawn. (Submitted by Sean Landsman)

Dead fish reported by Parks Canada

The provincial department of communities, land and environment was contacted Tuesday by Parks Canada reporting a large number of dead fish on the beach in Cavendish.

The province, in consultation with Landsman, determined the fish died of natural causes. 

It probably was fairly startling if someone just walking along on the beach and suddenly there's a whole string of dead fish for meters and meters, hundreds of meters down the beach.- Sean Landsman

Landsman found eggs buried in the sandproviding evidence of spawning.

"It probably was fairly startling if someone just walking along on the beach and suddenly there's a whole string of dead fish for meters and meters, hundreds of meters down the beach," said Landsman.

"But this is a natural thing. Folks shouldn't be too worried. This isn't the result of a crazy fish kill. This is natural actually."

Capelin fish lay their eggs in the warm sand and then die. (Submitted by Sean Landsman)

People seeing more capelin in P.E.I. waters

Landsman said the fish is in the same family as a smelt and look similar. 

"In this region we think of capelin in Newfoundland, not in Prince Edward Island. They aren't too common on Prince Edward Island," said Landsman.

But he said people are seeing a lot more of them lately – fishermen are catching them in their nets and more are appearing on shores.    

Capelin and smelt are in the same family but aren't the same fish. (Submitted by Sean Landsman)
 

Capelin travel in schools and inhabit Canadian and European waters. Landsman said it's not uncommon for these schooling fish to move into new areas, particularly if their environment changes. Atlantic salmon, cod, puffins, and other sea birds eat capelin

"I've had it before. It's great on the grill."

Capelin are not that common on P.E.I., but PhD student Sean Landsman says people are seeing more on the Island. (Submitted by Sean Landsman)

Landsman said birds and foxes should do a pretty good job of cleaning the dead fish off the beaches. 

There is no commercial fishery for capelin on P.E.I., but it is an important fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador.

There is an online reporting system called the Capelin Observers Network where people can submit information about sightings. 

Landsman suggests any sightings of dead capelin be reported to officials.