A day in the life of a caplin seiner

Reprinted from The Packet, July 28, 2015
by Lester Green

1 caplin

The Tow-off boat helps to remove the seine as the Random Dancer shoots around a school of caplin on Deer Cove shore on July 15.

2 caplin

Tow-off boat keeps the Southport Rider from drifting as the seine is being winched aboard the longliner through the powerblock. The boat was fishing off Western Head when this photo was taken July 15.

3 caplin

Caplin being dried-up on the surface of the water as the crew prepares to dip the fish aboard.

4 caplin

The Random Mist heads toward Southport to offload caplin at the end of a succesful voyage.


It was still dark as fishing folks awoke from their sleep. Daylight would soon break above the horizon. There was time for a quick mug of coffee, along with the taste of jam on two slices of toast. Very little  noise was heard from the house as the door was slowly closed, allowing those that were asleep to continue their nightly rest.

But for those who were going  fishing, there was the feeling of adventure and anticipation at the thought of what today would bring.For many, it was a yearly routine. Checking the engine oil and inspecting the gear, the skipper prepared his boat for the arrival of the crew.

Turning the ignition key resulted in the ringing of the alarm and with the black button pushed, the sound of the diesel engine broke the morning silence in the harbour.

This routine could be heard throughout the communities of the Southwest Arm area as the longliners sprang into action for the caplin fishery.

Boats could be seen coming from St. Jones Within, Little Heart’s Ease, Southport, and Gooseberry Cove, heading towards Deer Cove shore. The VHF’s or “the sets” were buzzing with skippers from different boats as they chatted about the direction to steer their enterprises.  All the boats had the latest electronic equipment used to find the elusive, small fish that were making their annual migration to local beaches.

The depth sounders were not only used to record the depth of water below the keel but also recorded any school of caplin between the boat and the bottom of the ocean. This occurs because the density of the caplin school causes part of the echo to reflect and return to the receiver, with the remaining echo recording the dense bottom.

Most of the purse seiners also have sonar which sends an echo wave to the sides of the vessel to record any caplin that may be within a set range.

Armed with these electronic devices, the skipper glances intensely at the screens for any sign of caplin. The crew scans the horizon and listens to “the sets” for any sign that other boats may have found the fish.

There is chatter among the crew and someone notices that there is a boat with a seine out off Western Head but the skipper also notices there is a school of caplin on the sonar. The boat’s speed is reduced and the skipper skillfully manoeuvres the vessel over the caplin to show on the depth sounder.

The top of caplin is 12 fathoms down, which is too deep for the seine. The skipper pushes the throttle forward and the vessel speeds towards the boats collecting on Deer Cove shore.

As this boat arrives on the shore, the fog lifts to reveal a number of boats have arrived during the night from Conception Bay, Bonavista Bay and other regions of Trinity Bay.

Deer Cove is dotted with brightly colored red, green, blue and white vessels sporting a variety of names and symbols on the sides of their hulls.

The boats range in sizes from 35 to 65 ft long with carrying capacities from 35,000 to 100,000 lbs. All boats, however, are limited to a daily catch limit of 70,000 lbs.

The crew discusses how the Trinity Bay quota will probably only last until the evening but this is no time to spend time talking about the negative, it is time to find and catch caplin to load the boat.

The skipper notices a big marking of caplin on the sonar and runs over the school to see the depth of the caplin and water. Everything looks good and he shouts above the engine, that the person needs to get into the tow-off boat and to start the outboard engine

Now the adrenaline is flowing as the crew members get to their individual tasks like a well-oiled machine. Everybody listens intently for the words from  the skipper.

Suddenly he shouts: “Go, go! Head towards Western Head!”

There’s the sound of lead weights, rings, tucking rope, twine and floats as the seine leaves the stern of the boat and encircles the school of caplin.

The tow-off boat heads straight back from the boat and the skipper manoeuvres the seiner with skill, producing a circle on the surface of water.

A crewmember shouts, “Half gone” in reference to the fact that half the seine rings are now overboard.

The skipper now turns the boat towards the smaller tow-off boat as the crewmember counts downward the number of rings remaining, “Six rings, five rings, four, three, two, gone.”

With the seine now in the water, the crew springs into action with one member grabbing the boat-hook and retrieving the other end of the seine from the tow-off boat and fasten it to the gunwhales of the longliner.

The tow-off quickly exits the seine and goes to the opposite side of the longlinger. Two other crewmembers place both ends of the tucking rope on the winch and start to close the seine (tuck) by winching in the rope. With the bottom of the seine closed, the last end of the seine to go overboard is placed in the power block above the deck, and the seine is slowly removed from the water, with each crewmember performing different roles.

One operates the controls for the power block, two others place the heads and foots of the seine on the stern of the boat, and others help with the twine. Meanwhile, the tow-off boat operator keeps the longliner from drifting in on the seine.

As the seine is slowly pulled aboard, the caplin are forced to rise to the surface. The skipper, after checking for red-feed, determines whether the catch should be dipped aboard.

If the caplin is to be taken, the twine is slowly hauled into the seiner until the caplin is on the surface, a process referred to as “drying the caplin.”

A large dip net is pushed into the caplin by one crewmember and another hauls it through the caplin lying on the surface of the water. The dip net is hoisted up by the hydraulic boom and maneuvered over the hold of the boat. Then the bottom of the net is opened up and the capline are dumped into the hold. This process is repeated until all the caplin are moved from seine to hold.

If hold is not filled, the skipper must now go in search of more caplin, to repeat this process of seining all over again, to complete the day’s quota.

It is nearly dark when the boat returns to port to await its turn to unload at the wharf.

Once the catch is unloaded, the crewmembers have one final duty before they can call it a day.

The boat has to be washed and cleaned and made ready for another day of fishing.

The fishing continues until the seasonal quota of caplin is taken by the fleet in this bay. Meanwhile, some boats are already heading to Bonavista Bay where the caplin fishery for the mobile fleet — the purse seiners — opens the next morning.

Text and photos by Lester Green

Special to The Packet