Capelin (Mallotus villosus)

Capelin (Mallotus villosus)

A member of the smelt family, the capelin is an important food fish for cod, pollock, salmon, seabirds, and whales. It has commercial value; females are prized for their roe, and the meat is used as animal feed and fish meal. Like other smelt in flavor and texture, it is an excellent table fish, marketed canned and frozen and prepared by frying and dry salting.


The capelin has a large mouth with a lower jaw that extends below each eye. Males have larger and deeper bodies than do females; also, the male has an anal fin with a strongly convex base, whereas the female has a straight anal fin base. Both sexes possess a single dorsal fin and extremely small scales. The body is mostly silver, and the upper back is a darker bluish-green.


Capelin may reach a size of 9 inches, although they are usually less than 7 inches long.

Life history/Behavior

Between March and October, capelin move inshore in large schools to spawn in shallow saltwater areas over fine gravel or on sand beaches; however, some may spawn at great depths. Spawning occurs more than once, and each female produces between 3,000 and 56,000 eggs; these are released at high tide and hatch in 2 to 3 weeks.

Food and feeding habits

Capelin feed primarily on planktonic crustaceans.

Other Names

Danish/Dutch/German/Norwegian: lodde; French: capelin atlantique; Japanese: karafuto-shishamo.

Huge amount of capelin
Huge amount of capelin


Capelin are found in the North Atlantic, especially in the Barents Sea up to Beard Island; in the White and the Norwegian Seas; off the coast of Greenland; and from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Maine. In the North Pacific, their range extends from Korea to the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Vancouver Island, Canada, and Washington, U.S.


Inhabiting saltwater, capelin are pelagic and live in the open seas.