They were small, and they were late. And some were wondering if the main caplin stock would even show up inshore.
The fishery opened in mid-July for purse seiners, longliners that fish deeper waters, and July 27 for inshore fishers using fixed gear, i.e. traps and bar seines. It closed Thursday.
The purse seiners in Trinity Bay have taken their quota.
However, the inshore fishers were still fishing right up to the deadline.
And it was slow going.
Normally, when the caplin make their annual run to the inshore grounds, the fishery lasts no more than a few days, with boats landing two or three times a day.
This year, fishers were lucky to get one load a day.
"The caplin's not coming to shore where the traps are," Bill Broderick, inshore director with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW), said before the season closed.
He's not convinced, though, that is a sign the stock is in trouble.
"I don't think the problem is with the stock. I think the problem is that the caplin are in deep water," Broderick said.
He pointed out purse seiners didn't have problems getting their quota.
His theory is that water temperatures are not ideal for the caplin to move to shore.
"Caplin are probably the most temperature-sensitive fish that's in the water. This year it appears there's layers of water that the caplin got to come through, that it couldn't - it won't - go through."
Chris Hendry, who works in the pelagics division of resource management with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), said department scientists are also following that theory.
"Caplin prefer, for spawning conditions, six to eight degrees (Celsius) and the water temperatures around Newfoundland have been warmer than that this year. Even in deeper waters it's warmer as well.
"As a result, the caplin are staying a bit further offshore, likely because they're waiting for cooler water temperatures for optimal spawning conditions."
Because of the warmer water temperatures, Broderick didn't think the area would have a main stock this year.
George Saunders, who fished out of Hickman's Harbour this year, was thinking fishermen had a chance of getting the big catch.
His theory was based on experience, but his faith in the full moon Aug. 5 went unrealized.
He did agree the change in water temperature had a big impact.
"There's something gone wrong with the water temperature. Something's changed."
While some caplin made it to the inshore, they were not the kind of caplin that fetch a good price.
The fish were small.
In the catches landed at Hickman's Harbour as July wound down, it took 65 to 70 caplin to make up one kilo.
The main market for caplin is in Japan, and Japanese buyers prefer a catch that averages 40 to 50 caplin per kilo.
Edgar Simmons, owner of Golden Shell Fisheries in Hickman's Harbour, remained hopeful about the season, but he was worried about the low catches and small fish.
"I know the caplin's going to come. It's just behind. But the caplin we pack now, we can't sell. It's too small."
It left some wondering whether DFO erred in deciding to open the inshore fishery when it did.
Hendry explained the process of opening involves fishermen as well as DFO field staff.
"We also do a test fishery for caplin. We issue test permits to fishers in different parts of the island, allowing them to go out with some gear to take small catches."
Those catches are sampled, to gather information on the percentage of females in the catch, amount of red feed and other info, to determine whether opening the fishery was warranted.
"All those pieces of the puzzle help us, as well as the FFAW and the fishers' committees, determine if it's a good time to open a fishery," Hendry said.
He added DFO heard from Trinity Bay and beyond that the caplin were late.
"A lot of the concern, as well, is that a lot of the caplin that's being landed is small."
This hit hard the fishermen who hoped the caplin fishery would boost their income in a year where the price of crab and shrimp has been low.
"It was the one fishery that people were hoping to make a dollar at this year," said Broderick.
"The price was down, and now the stocks are down. It's just another blow to an already bad year."