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Scientists ask N.L. to keep watch for caplin

Caplin are collected as they roll in. If you see this sight, Memorial University researchers want to know where and when.
Caplin are collected as they roll in. If you see this sight, Memorial University researchers want to know where and when.

Ever post a pic in the name of science? Teams of scientists, including researchers from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), want the caplin roll in eastern Canada to go viral in 2017.

As part of their ongoing studies, they’re looking to see where the small, silvery fish are spawning — rolling around on the beaches — and when. But with such a large area to cover and spawning typically lasting just a few days, they’re hoping the public will help.

“It’s very difficult to predict when they will be spawning and where,” said Marie Clément, a researcher with both the Labrador Institute and the Fisheries and Marine Institute at MUN, who is one of the scientists interested in making use of available data.

To help, the World Wildlife Fund-Canada (WWF) has partnered with the non-profit St. Lawrence Global Observatory to push ecapelin.ca (#ecapelin), where your images of the caplin rolling can be posted, to help map the activity.

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The belief is the more contributions made, the better the picture will be for scientists trying to improve our understanding of the “keystone” fish.

“It’s such an important species for the ecosystem health and as a forage species for commercially harvested species, and as well for the subsistence fisheries,” Clément said, adding caplin also help support seal populations harvested by and for indigenous communities.

She began to take a greater interest in caplin following a conversation in 2015 with members of the Nunatsiavut Government, who spoke to her about the return of caplin to northern coastal areas where they hadn’t been reported in numbers for 20 years.

Caplin is significant for the region’s ecosystem, she said, but generally not as well understood as some other species.

“I think everybody — scientists, academics and government — is trying to fill up the knowledge gap,” she said.

As announced in April, there is $2.4 million for more caplin research within the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), specifically for additional acoustic surveying in 2018 in fisheries management area 2J3KL, covering the area off both eastern Newfoundland and southeastern Labrador.

A regular spring survey off 3L, eastern Newfoundland, already exists, but will be supplemented with the fall survey, to provide a more fulsome estimate on fish numbers.

The move should also allow researchers time to figure out a means of adding the right acoustic data collection to a regular, annual DFO bottom-trawl survey, to keep the improved counts going.

“We absolutely need to know how many caplin are out there,” said Fran Mowbray with DFO, adding that the next step is additional projection and better understanding the drivers of expected changes in caplin numbers.

DFO scientists are already exploring more around the fish’s relationship with cod, survival of caplin in a changing ocean environment and caplin population dynamics.

At the University of Quebec at Rimouski, professor Pascal Bernatchez has been looking at caplin’s experience along changing coastlines, while University of Manitoba associate professor Gail Davoren has been exploring how caplin numbers affect top ocean predators.

Clément said 2017 will see more investigation by her team around genetics and phenotypes of caplin around Newfoundland and Labrador.

She said the social media contributions could — along with the continued support of governments in the region and industry — help to fill in the picture.

 

Want to help?

If you’re interested in contributing to the scientific investigation of North Atlantic caplin, hop online when you spot a caplin roll. If you can, snap a picture and add it to the map at ecapelin.ca. But don’t hesitate to post using #ecapelin to put out the notice of caplin in your area.

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