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Research Document - 2011/023

Capelin (Mallotus villosus) in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence (NAFO Divisions 4RST) in 2010

By F. Grégoire and B. Bruneau


Preliminary capelin landings in the Estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence (NAFO Divisions 4RST) totalled 10,806 t in 2010. Most of these landings (8,753 t) were made in Division 4R (west coast of Newfoundland). Landings were also made in Divisions 4S (795 t) (Quebec's Lower North Shore) and 4T (1,258 t) (southern Gulf of St. Lawrence). Note that the Total Allowable Catches (TAC) (1,805 t) associated with these two divisions has been exceeded annually since 2006. The performance index of the purse seine fishery in 4R has increased since 2005 and the value measured in 2010 is the highest of the entire series. In 2010, the performance index of the purse seine fishery in 4T was similar to that of 4R but included greater variability. Capelin are also a by-catch of the shrimp fishery. According to data collected by observers (5% coverage), 115 t of capelin were caught in this fishery in 2010, most of them (69 t) in the Sept-Îles shrimp fishery management area. There was a marked decrease in the lengths of female and male capelin caught in the 4R purse seine fishery in the 1990s. These lengths increased between 1999 and 2005 before decreasing in 2006 to subsequently keep values close to the average of the 1984-2009 period. The average lengths of capelin on the east coast of Newfoundland (Divisions 3K and 3L) present the same annual variations as those on the west coast. However, the mean lengths on the east coast were greater in the 1980s. Since 1990, capelin catches made during annual groundfish trawl surveys have expanded gradually in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. For the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence, the dispersion index increased between 1990 and 2003. Relatively steady values were then measured, with a marked increase in 2010. Although commercial fishery harvests only a very small proportion of the total biomass, any increase in TAC should be made with caution because of the prominent role of capelin as a forage species in the marine ecosystem. In this sense, a cumulative increase of more than 10% of the TAC over the next years, 2011, 2012 and 2013, would be considered imprudent. Fishing effort should be dispersed all along the coast and not concentrated locally. Finally, any development of an analytical assessment model of the capelin abundance should take into consideration the consumption of its main predators.

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