Forage Fish
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Closeup photo of Capelin with descriptions of identifying anatomy.
Photo of a large pile of Capelin

Forage Fish Identification Guide

Mallotus villosus

Rarely caught in the Puget Sound basin, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca or in the San Juan Archipelago.

Description: The body of the capelin is elongate and olive to bottle green above and silvery below the lateral line.  The body is only about one-sixth as deep and about one-twelfth as thick as it is long and of nearly uniform depth from gill cover to anal fin.  The snout is pointed with the upper jaw not reaching past the middle of a large eye.  The tip of the lower jaw projects noticeably beyond the upper jaw.  The scales are minute and the adipose fin is notably rectangular or square, as opposed to the rounded adipose fin of other smelts.  During the spawning season males exhibit pronounced sexual dimorphism.  Male pectoral, pelvic, and anal fins, and scales along the lateral line, enlarge as the skin thickens and "hairs" grow along the sides.  The back and head darken at spawning time.

Maximum Size: To 25.2 cm (10 in) in length.

Maximum Age: 5 years.

Range/Habitat: Capelin range in the eastern Pacific from northern boreal - arctic waters to the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Vancouver Island, Canada and Washington.   They are found in all Boreal-Arctic seas.  This schooling fish is found from the surface to at least 200 m (660 ft) but are typically in the upper 100 m (330 ft).  Juveniles can be found in shallow, protected waters while adults form large schools off shore.  During the spawning season single-sex schools move inshore to spawn on gravel and pebble bottoms.  Males and females release milt and roe simultaneously, as the male digs into the substrate to bury the eggs.  Eggs reportedly hatch in 2 or 3 weeks.  Capelin feed on larval fishes, copepods, euphausiids, crustaceans, polychaetes, and arrow worms.  They are also a prey item of at least 50 species of fish, birds, seals, whales, and otters.


Photo: WDFW and NOAA