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Capelin Observers Network-Identification

Capelin is a small, olive-coloured, cold-water pelagic fish from the family Osmeridae (along with rainbow smelt). While all individuals are slender, males and females have different physical characteristics during the breeding season. The male has overdeveloped pectoral and anal fins which it uses to grasp the female and to dig a depression in the sea bottom in which to bury the eggs and milt. The female can be recognized by her abdomen swollen with eggs. In addition to these characteristics, capelin has a villous band on the lateral line, hence its Latin name, Mallotus villosus, meaning villous or hairy.

Male (at top) and female (at bottom) capelin

Depending on the population and the year, capelin can vary significantly in size.In the waters of the St. Lawrence, individuals averages between 13 to 20 cm in length, but can reach up to 23 cm, with males being larger than females. The capelin found along the coast of Labrador can reach lengths of nearly 30 cm. Capelin lifespan is estimated at five or six years, and the species reaches sexual maturity around the age of three.

During the spawning period, the abdomen of the female is swollen with eggs and the pectoral fins of the male lengthen and project out from the body. These distinctive characteristics appear approximately four to five weeks before the start of spawning. For the rest of the year, the differences between the two sexes disappear and it is almost impossible to distinguish between the male and female.