Capelin are small salmonids and pelagic shoaling fish which are dark on the back and light on the underside. It is widespread in polar regions in the Northern Hemisphere. The most important stocks are in the Barents Sea, off Iceland and Newfoundland and in the Bering Sea. The stock in the Barents Sea constitutes the largest.
In spring, capelin acquire characteristic spawning colours. The male fish then acquires a line of hairy scales along the side of the body and a greatly enlarged and black-coloured anal fin. The male is called a "faks-lodde" in Norwegian, and the female, which lacks this strip, is called a "sil-lodde". Capelin live the entire three to five years of their life in shoals in the Barents Sea. They mature and feed between Svalbard and Novaya Zemlya, spawn along the coast of the Kola Peninsula, Finnmark and Nord-Troms and usually die immediately afterwards. This also explains the great variations in the capelin stock. The spawning takes place at the bottom, at a depth of between 20 and 60 metres, and the eggs attach themselves to the bottom and lie there until they hatch after a month. The larvae will come up into the upper water column and drift with the current away from the coast and up towards the Barents Sea. Capelin grow quickly and in the course of 3–4 years they have grown to 14–18 cm. They have a very short life and are seldom more than five years old. Capelin are a key organism in the ecosystem, and capelin are an important food for predators including cod and herring.
Capelin are mainly fished in the Barents Sea between January and April. Usual fishing gear is purse seines and pelagic trawls.
Each year, Norwegian and international research provides a basis for advice on sustainable catch in the North-eastern Atlantic Ocean. Norway then conducts negotiations on quotas with other countries that fish for the same stocks. Based on the negotiations, the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries allocates the Norwegian share to Norwegian fishers. It is the authorities who grant a licence to everyone who participates in the industry, and provisions regarding quota allocation and conduct of the fishery are determined through annual regulations for each individual type of fish (control regulations).
The capelin stock in the Barents Sea is currently quite weak because of poor recruitment, high mortality (pressure from good annual cohorts of herring and cod) and a decline in the quantity of plankton in the Barents Sea. The authorities have halted the fishing for capelin for the moment in order to improve the stock. During the last thirty years, the capelin fishery has been halted several times because of large changes in the size of the stock.
Food safety and quality control
The Norwegian seafood industry is subject to stringent requirements in order to ensure food safety. It is a system consisting of several bodies which jointly examine and monitor compliance with the requirements in all stages of the production chain. The bodies which supervise food are the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, the Norwegian National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES), the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries and the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries.
Capelin are rich in:
- Protein, which builds and maintains all the cells in the body.
- Marine omega-3 fatty acids, which prevent cardiovascular disease and are important for the development of the brain. The fat content varies with the seasons.
- Vitamin A, which contributes to strengthening vision and the immune system and is important for foetal development and reproductive capacity.
Capelin roe is considered a delicacy, but almost all capelin are ground into fish meal and fish oil and used for animal feed. In Japan, spawning capelin (female capelin) are used as food, often baked, in Shishamo or as grilled capelin snacks. Capelin can be eaten whole. they do not need to be filleted or cleaned before preparation.