Capelin study first of its kind in Gulf of St. Lawrence

With everything from seabirds to cod and whales dependent on capelin for food, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is delving deeper into the health of capelin stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Health of capelin stock vital to success of many species that visit Island waters

Aquatic sciences biologist Andrew Smith holds a capelin sample obtained in Bonne Bay, N.L. (Andrew Smith/Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

With everything from seabirds to cod and whales dependent on capelin for food, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is delving deeper into the health of capelin stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

In the past, spot studies have been done in sections of the Gulf, but this is the first time an extensive study has occurred.

'We don't know a lot about capelin in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.'

"The truth is we don't know a whole lot about capelin in the Gulf of St. Lawrence," says Andrew Smith, a biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, responsible for estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence capelin and mackerel files.

"Most of our data comes from the commercial fishery and most of the research on capelin in Canada comes from the East Coast of Newfoundland, where they have a very well developed research program there."

The twenty-five day research trip recently took the team from Gaspé, Que., to Stephenville, N.L., then back along Quebec's Northern shore, covering 2738 nautical miles of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  

It involved underwater acoustic surveys, and samples of capelin were taken in five different areas.

Data will take several months to process

Smith says his team is still analyzing the specimens and the data, and it'll be several months before results from the study can be shared.

"None of the data is treated yet," said Smith.  "I did see banks of capelin, but as this is a pilot project, a very first-year exploratory study, you can't compare it to any baseline. This is the baseline."

Once the data is processed and analyzed, Fisheries and Oceans Canada will have a much clearer picture of the health of the ecosystem in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  

Need to understand 'forage fish'

"I'm really excited about it," said Smith. "We really do need to get a handle on these forage fish and some of these other species lower down on the food chain to properly understand which way the ecosystem is going in the Gulf of St. Lawrence."

He says even though the Southern Gulf isn't considered a major spawning ground for capelin, the health of that stock is vital to the success of ground fish, whales and seabirds that live off the waters of P.E.I.

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