Seafood Watch - Seafood Guide


© Lori Alden
Capelin Best Choice: These fish are abundant, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. Smelt Roe, Masago Iceland Wild
Capelin Good Alternative: These are good alternatives to the best choices column. There are some concerns with how they are fished or farmed – or with the health of their habitats due to other human impacts. Smelt Roe, Masago Canada Wild

Capelin, Wild, Canada or Iceland

Capelin is fished primarily for its "roe." Capelin roe, typically called smelt roe, is a popular sushi item where it is sold under the Japanese name masago. Icelandic capelin is a "Best Choice" as the fishery has the least bycatch and the most effective management practices.

Consumer Note

Capelin/smelt roe is known as masago when prepared as sushi.Capelin roe is available year-round.


Capelin is a small fish that is an important food source for other ocean wildlife. Therefore, the capelin fishery must consider and include the needs of cod, herring and the many other species that rely on capelin as a source of food. A good fishery management plan takes all of these needs into account.

Fortunately, capelin matures at an early age, grows quickly to maturity and reproduces at a very high rate. These characteristics help protect capelin populations from overfishing.

Overfishing does not appear to be occurring in either the Icelandic or Canadian fisheries, but the data aren't entirely clear. Canadian populations are fluctuating, with those in Iceland remaining mostly stable.

Capelin is most commonly caught with purse seines, a type of fishing gear that causes very little habitat damage. The Canadian fishery is increasingly relying on trap nets, which are generally known to have moderate impacts on habitat.

Bycatch is a low concern in the Icelandic fishery, whereas recent bycatch levels in the Canadian capelin fisheries are unknown.

Management in the Icelandic fisheries is making strides towards thoughtful and integrated policies, whereas it is unclear if Canadian management measures have maintained the population levels over time.

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How fish are caught or farmed makes a difference. Fishing boat