Why a rare appearance of capelin in P.E.I. is good news

Capelin have made an appearance on a beach in western P.E.I. — a rare occurrence and also a sign that capelin populations are strong.

Scientists say it's a good sign for health and abundance of capelin stocks

Capelin roll onto the beach in Whites Cove near Campbell’s shore in western P.E.I. (Submitted by Toni Vary )

Capelin have made an appearance on a beach in western P.E.I. — a rare occurrence and also a sign that capelin populations are strong.

Toni Vary spotted hundreds of the small fish — rolling in with the tide and flipping from side to side all along the shore, near the water in Whites Cove, near Campbell's Shore.

"There was a lot of seagulls and I was trying to sneak up and get a picture of them and that's when I noticed the water making noise," she said.

"It was about 400 feet long, all along the shoreline, it was all just basically splashing — there had to be thousands of them," she said.

Vary took some photos and videos of the fish with her phone.

She later found out they were capelin and she had witnessed their spawning — not something often seen on Island beaches. 

'A big year for capelin'

"Capelin don't spawn on P.E.I. very often," says Martin Castonguay, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

According to Castonguay, capelin have been rolling onto unfamiliar shores throughout Atlantic Canada and in Quebec for the past month.

Martin Castonguay, a Research Scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, says capelin are appearing in unfamiliar shores in recent weeks, and that's a good sign that stocks are abundant. (Martin Castonguay)

"What you're seeing in western P.E.I, I think we are seeing all over the place — it's a big year for capelin this year."

He said said it's a good indication that capelin stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are healthy and abundant.

Usually spawning occurs mostly in Newfoundland, but if it's happening elsewhere — in places where capelin aren't normally seen — it could mean there's more of them than usual.

'A fluctuating species'

Castonguay isn't quite sure why this is a good year.

"We don't really know — capelin is a fluctuating species, in some years will be more abundant than others, don't really have a very good understanding of why their populations fluctuate."

According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, capelin spawning on P.E.I. shores is rare. (Submitted by Toni Vary )

He said mortality is very high during spawning, so it's common to see a lot of dead fish on the beach soon after capelin roll onto the shore.

Castonguay said DFO likes to keep track of capelin sightings, and invites anyone who seems them to submit the information to an online database created to help scientists monitor capelin stocks. 

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