The annual Capelin Roll – a glittery, spectacular pop-up festival.

The image of tens of thousands of small silver fish just under the surface of the water captures your imagination right from the beginning. So, it should come as no surprise that word spreads fast across Newfoundland and Labrador when these fish start rolling onto our shore with the waves. 

Capelin come to our shores to spawn 

These silver fish are capelin. They come to our beaches every year to spawn, and their arrival is a spectacle that draws in thousands of birds and whales who often put on a show of their own. Not to mention throngs of people who have it on their bucket list to experience the natural phenomenon of the annual capelin roll. It’s an event that is as unusual as it is unpredictable. And though the exact date is difficult to predict, it typically happens mid-June or July.

The arrival of the capelin heralds the beginning of summer weather, along with a chance to spy humpback whales coming to feed on these slender, speedy fish. And they’re also a traditional delicacy, fresh from the ocean for a short season. 

Capelin are delicious treats for humpbacks 

Many people visit capelin hotspots like Middle Cove beach, just outside St. John’s, to see if the capelin roll has begun. The fact that there are 30 different coves across the province named for capelin indicates the widespread fascination with the annual tradition. To stay up to date on capelin locations, visit www.ecapelin.ca. People who spot capelin can also let others know on Twitter by using the hashtag #CapelinRoll20XX and insert the current year, which is updated annually. 

Locals use nets to scoop up the fish from shore 

Once the capelin begin the trip to shore, people line the beaches to watch, catch, and scoop up these silver fish. You’ll see all manner of nets, including a cast net or dip net, as well as buckets. Many people come to simply enjoy the sight, watching kids, and adults alike shriek as they capture the wriggling creatures in their hands. The more adventurous will don their rubber boots, and wade into the shallow ocean waters to use their nets (some more successfully than others!). The more patient cast their fishing lines out to the capelin retreating from the shoreline. The festival atmosphere at these local beaches is akin to a pop-up, as family and friends gather with plenty of campfires, beach blankets, and picnic coolers. Who knows, you may even see whales lunge feeding on these delicious capelin just offshore. 

And this small, slender fish is actually much healthier and tastier than you may think, although it may never become one of your favorite foods. The locals each have their own way to prepare them, from frying, to roasting over an open campfire, to pickling, along with the traditional method of salting and drying the fish. Regardless of how much you love the taste, catching them is a local food experience you’ll certainly never forget. If you ever get to see the capelin roll, it really is one of nature’s wonders.

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