Birds, seals welcome infrequent fish visitor to Haines

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2001

HAINES (AP) -- Eagles, gulls, seals and beachcombers are scooping up Pacific capelin, a smelt-like fish and harbinger of spring that appears here only occasionally.

State sportfish biologist Randy Ericksen told the Chilkat Valley News that hundreds of the five-inch fish washed ashore along Portage Cove this month.

Bluish-green and appearing translucent, capelin spawn near shore at high tide, and like salmon, expire afterward. They were last around Haines in late April 1993, when they washed up at the head of Lutak Inlet.

They've also been known to spawn in Glacier Bay and Snettisham.

What sends them up Lynn Canal is largely mystery, Ericksen said.

''It's a good question. They're not real prevalent in Southeast Alaska in terms of areas they spawn in. But their population fluctuates a lot. It's probably that they're in great abundance this year that we see them,'' he said.

Ericksen shipped off some of specimens to a Juneau lab, where they'll be reviewed for their age.

Capelin also were reported this week near Pyramid Island in Chilkat Inlet, where seals and hundreds of gulls congregated at low tide.

Capelin feed along the polar ice cap and are commercially fished in Norway, where they're rendered down for their oil.

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