More money in capelin?

Capelin roe is a possible goldmine if only one can get hold of it. From raw material to end product, its value can increase a staggering seven times. But the supply of capelin roe is variable and scientists are now studying what advantages fixed stable quotas can offer.

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John Roald Isaksen

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Unsorted capelin is male and female capelin processed/frozen early in the season before the roe is mature, and is exported mostly to Eastern Europe. Roe capelin (female capelin) is processed later in the season when the capelin is ready to spawn. It is exported to Japan frozen and is consumed whole. Capelin roe is processed at the end of the season when the roe is completely mature. The roe is cleaned and frozen and is mostly sold to Japan and the East.

The size of capelin stocks varies markedly from year to year. Virtually all the fish die after spawning and form an important part of the food chain for cod and other fish species in the Barents Sea.

It is important for the segment of the fishing fleet that fishes cod and other demersal fish that the cod eat sufficient capelin. However, those who fish capelin want to be permitted to catch as much as possible.


The fisheries management authorities do not permit fishing for capelin until the spawning stock exceeds 200,000 tonnes. During the past 25 years, fishing for capelin has been permitted in just 11 years. When fisheries of capelin were again permitted in 2009, it was six years since the last time. This year Norwegian fishermen received a quota of 245,000 tonnes.

“An ’on and off’ fisheries like this creates problems for those who handle the capelin,” says Nofima Scientist John R. Isaksen. “It makes it hard to maintain the competence in catching, production and marketing.”

“In addition, there are expenses associated with these fisheries given that the production equipment is not being used. Eight years ago there were eight processing plants in Finnmark for consumable capelin, but today just one of these remains.”

Snack in Japan

Capelin is used both as food for human consumption and for production of fishmeal and fish oil. The market pays most for capelin used for human consumption.

“The Japanese consume around 20,000 tonnes of roe capelin annually,” says Isaksen. “They prefer capelin from the Barents Sea and are willing to pay more than other markets.”

Eastern Europe is a relatively new market for capelin. This market buys a lot of unsorted capelin, which has a lower price than the roe capelin (see fact box).

Japan has traditionally been the market that pays highest for Norwegian capelin. The Japanese fry the roe capelin whole and consume it as bar snacks. Consequently, capelin can be good business providing it is available. But the quotas vary greatly from year to year. In years when capelin cannot be fished, the Japanese market has to buy its capelin elsewhere.

Fresh thoughts

The Fisheries and Aquaculture Industry Research Fund (FHF) has commissioned Nofima in collaboration with the Institute of Marine Research to take a closer look at the management of capelin and the consequences for the fishing fleet, industry and important markets.

The scientists will amongst other things chart the catch, production and export, and compare the added value from the capelin fisheries based on two different resource management strategies. One is today’s ‘on and off’ fisheries, while the other is a stable, limited quota within a biologically sustainable range. Such a quota can take care of the most important markets.

“In order to better exploit the market potential of capelin, we need to find out how we can increase the predictability,” says Isaksen. “But there is a need to be cautious with the handling of the capelin fisheries from a resource management, scientific and business perspective.”

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