Ship Cove restoration will bring capelin back to spawn

Next summer, small fish in Newfoundland will have a happy surprise come spawning time. Last week, work in Placentia Bay by WWF-Canada got underway to restore a capelin spawning beach in a place called Ship Cove.  

Work gets underway at Ship Cove. © Catharine Tunnacliffe / WWF-Canada

I was fortunate enough to visit this beautiful beach as the project began. Ship Cove used to have some prime conditions for capelin, including a favourable size of gravel close to the shoreline.
But about a decade ago, a large part of the beach was used as a quarry, and as a result the beach subsided and the spawning gravel was washed far from the waterline. Now large boulders on the shore make it impossible for capelin to spawn over most of area.  
Capelin can’t spawn when rocks are too large. © Catharine Tunnacliffe / WWF-Canada

Capelin are a keystone species in the ecosystem around Newfoundland and Labrador. They’re a vital food source for seabirds, larger fish like Atlantic codand humpback whales. Only a few species of forage fish in Canada are beach-spawners, and they need the right conditions to find reproductive success.  
Capelin eggs clinging to a small rock at Middle Cove. © Steph Nicholl / WWF-Canada

At Ship Cove, we’re going to get the spawning gravel back to the shoreline so it’s accessible to capelin, following plans drawn up by engineers. We’ll also shore up the beach so the gravel doesn’t wash away again. When we’re done, the beach will be restored to its natural state and will look more like this area, which wasn’t damaged by quarrying.  
The corner of Ship Cove where capelin can still spawn. © Catharine Tunnacliffe / WWF-Canada

Capelin still come to that unaltered corner of Ship Cove beach, so we’re optimistic that they may return to spawn in greater numbers when the beach is fully restored. We’ll be back to monitor them next summer.  
Capelin on a beach after spawning. © Steph Nicholl / WWF-Canada

This is the first project funded by a $3.7 million grant from the federal government’s Coastal Restoration Fund. In addition to the beach restoration at Ship Cove, we’re planning a number of projects in Newfoundland and Labrador, including removing obstacles in the path of migrating salmon and char in Labrador and addressing coastal erosion in areas impacted by climate change.
The multi-year funding will allow WWF-Canada to make a real difference in improving coastal habitats for marine wildlife through monitoring and restoration.