Eulachon (Pacific Population)
Eulachon (also known as candlefish or oolichan) belong to the family Osmeridae or smelts. The scientific name for eulachon is Thaleichthys pacificus, a name derived from the Greek roots thaleia (rich), ichthys (fish) and Pacific (Ocean), which refers to the high oil content found in these little fish.
Eulachons are small, short-lived, anadromous smelts that can be found from the southern Bering Sea to northern California, approximately in the area corresponding to the coastal temperate rain forest. Within BC, they have been documented spawning in 33 rivers, but may only use 14-15 on a sustained basis. Of these, the major river systems where eulachon return to spawn are the Fraser, Skeena, Nass, and Klinaklini.
Eulachon are so high in oil content that they can be dried, fitted with a wick through the mouth and used as a candle. The oil is unique among fish oils in that it is a solid at room temperatures with the consistency of soft butter and a golden hue. As well as a source of fresh food, eulachon lipids may be extracted for 'grease' production. Eulachon grease continues to be an important part of the First Nations diet. The trails used to reach the traditional fisheries and to carry the rendered oil back for trade were known as the "grease trails".
Around BC, eulachon may be found on the offshore shelf about Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound, and the West Coast of Vancouver Island, generally at depths of 80-200 m.
For reasons unknown, eulachon abundance have shown a declining trend in many rivers throughout their distribution in recent years. There was a sudden drop in returns to several rivers in 1994, most notably in the Fraser and Columbia. Eulachon have virtually disappeared in California and in the last two years they have not been seen in several BC rivers. Rivers which experienced virtually no returns in 2000 were: Stikine, Unuk, Skeena, Kitimat, Kemano, Kitlope, Bella Coola, Kimsquit, Owikeeno, and Kingcome Rivers. Concurrently, there has been a recent increase in the abundance of eulachons in marine waters, off BC and parts of Alaska. While this is an encouraging sign, previous observations of high eulachon abundance in marine waters were not followed by any apparent increases in spawning biomass in freshwater rivers.
Factors hypothesized to have detrimental effects on eulachon returns can be broken down into "in-river" and "marine" effects. In-river effects may include: habitat loss, pollution, directed fisheries, logging, and marine mammal predation. Marine effects may include: oceanographic changes due to global warming or other factors, bycatch from commercial fisheries, changes in food abundance or distribution, and predation.
Key legislation governing activities in these fisheries includes the following:
- Fisheries Act
- Pacific Fishery Regulations, 1993
- Fishery (General) Regulations
- Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licence Regulations
- The British Columbia Sport fishing Regulations (1996)
- Oceans Act
- Pacific Fishery Management Area Regulations
For further information, please visit the Key Legislation page.
Integrated Fisheries Management Plan
- Eulachon Consultations
- Research documents and stock status reports - Scientific papers and short resource status papers, available through DFO's Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) site
First Nations Fishery
Eulachons are of continuing importance to First Nations who harvest them for food, social and ceremonial purposes. Eulachons are eaten fresh, or often smoked, dried, salted or made into grease. Eulachon grease is an important First Nations food source, it is widely bartered among communities and is given as gifts in potlatch ceremonies.
The making of eulachon grease is a labour intensive process. The general Kwakiutl method of grease extraction was described by MacNair (1971): after the eulachon were caught, they were allowed to decompose in canoes, chests, or pits for one to two weeks. The fish were then put into hot water and heated for half an hour after which the entire mixture was stirred and the fish "bounced" on large forks to release oil from the fish and the resulting oil was skimmed off the surface of the water. It was strained, cooled, and heated again until it turned clear and then stored. Other methods by various groups included pressing the fish to extract the remaining oil after boiling or heating, and heating the fish-water mixture with hot stones. Historically, the grease was often stored in containers made from bull kelp or in wooden boxes.
For groups with access, eulachon grease formed a staple part of the First Nations diet. It was used in many traditional foods, to preserve fruit, as medicine and even to lubricate tools. Eulachon grease is composed mainly of oleic, stearic, and palmitic acids. It added a good dose of vitamins A, D, K, and E to the First Nations diet. The fish when eaten whole was also a source of calcium, iron, and zinc protein.
High value was placed on eulachon grease. When traded, 25 gallons or one box of eulachon grease was worth the equivalent of four blankets or two beaver skins or two boxes of dried halibut. Fifty gallons of eulachon grease could be traded for a canoe. (Hinrichsen, 1998)
The Department negotiates approximately 74 agreements annually with 145 First Nations in British Columbia and the Yukon. First Nations access to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes are managed through a communal licence. (for additional information on communal licences, see the internet site.
Aboriginal communal licences specify the locations and method permitted for use by First Nations for food, social and ceremonial harvests. Eulachons are harvested when they return to freshwater to spawn. Timing of fisheries on the coast is area dependent, with the Skeena and Nass spawners returning in early March and to the Fraser River in April/May. Fishing methods will vary by First Nations and river system, but may include beach seine, gillnet, conical nets and dipnets.
Limited information is available on the extent of First Nations' harvest of eulachons for food, social and ceremonial purposes. Catch monitoring programs are currently being developed in collaboration with some Aboriginal organizations.
|1997||106 tonnes||March 20|
|1998||296 tonnes||March 13|
|1999||238 tonnes||March 15|
|2000||168 tonnes||March 17|
The Department regularly consults with individual First Nations on a bilateral basis on their fisheries for food, social and ceremonial purposes, as well as on activities that might impact on their fisheries (e.g. proposed commercial, recreational fisheries, by-catch issues or fishery closures). It is the objective of the Department to enter into Fisheries Agreements with First Nations that will set out fishing arrangements including area of the fishery, harvest levels, gear to be used and the First Nations involvement in the management of their fishery. The Department also consults with groups of First Nations that share common fishing areas or in some cases, share common interests. Examples of the latter include watershed-based committees such as the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Forum, and the province-wide BC Aboriginal Fisheries Commission. To date, there has not been an agreed-upon process to consult on a multi-lateral basis between First Nations, commercial and recreational fishers.
There is currently no recreational harvesting of eulachon due to conservation concerns.
Eulachon have been commercially harvested on the Fraser River since the 1870's. The only other large commercial fishery of eulachon in BC has been on the Nass River, which ended in the 1940's. In the early 1940's, First Nations asked the Minister of Fisheries not to grant licences to any non-aboriginal individuals or companies to harvest eulachon from anywhere in BC except for the Fraser River. Fraser River eulachon were not used for grease production, perhaps due to lower oil content or quality or lack of interest from First Nations groups living in the area. From 1903 to 1912, the Fraser River eulachon fishery was the fifth largest commercial fishery in BC. (Stacy, 1995).
Historically, anyone with a Category 'C' licence or a limited entry vessel-based category of licence was eligible to fish eulachon. These fish are harvested when they return to the lower Fraser River to spawn between late March and early May.
Up to 1995, the fishery was passively managed with an open time from March 15 to May 31 for commercial drift gillnets with a one day per week closure. In 1995, due to concerns raised by First Nations and commercial fishers that eulachon stocks were at very low levels of abundance, an active management regime and stock assessment program was initiated. The fishery was restricted to three days per week in an attempt to provide a "spawning window" which would allow some fish to swim unimpeded by nets to their spawning areas.
In 1996, the number of vessels landing eulachon increased to 71 and the catch dramatically increased to at least 63t (preliminary estimate). This increase was due to a number of factors, including: speculation over licensing changes, diminished opportunities in other fisheries, changes to the unemployment insurance program and an increase in the availability of eulachon.
The commercial eulachon fishery was closed in 1997 due to the inability to control effort and participation and to ensure conservation objectives were met. Licence limitation was put into effect in 1998 and a separate category of licence for eulachon (ZU) introduced. Due to stock abundance concerns the fishery was not opened in 1998, 1999 or 2000.
The commercial eulachon fishery sells to the fresh fish market for food. Some of the catch is sold as bait for recreational sturgeon fishing. Based on fish slip records for the period 1980 to 1995, the number of active vessels ranged between 8 and 45 and catches were between 6t and 49t with an average of 20t. The total value of the fishery has ranged between $9,000 and $64,000.
|Year||# Fishers||Value ($)||Effort (days)||Catch (tonnes)|
|1996||35 (71*)||59,438||275||29.463 (65.745*)|
|Five year averages|
|10 year average|
|Source: DFO sales slip data|
|* log book/hail data|
- Ichthyoplankton surveys: Bongo nets & sampling methods
- Fraser River egg-larval surveys: Stock assessments, 1995-2016
- Offshore juvenile distribution, size and growth: 1995-2016
- Eulachon and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation: 1995-2015
CSAS Documents and Stock Status Reports
- Recovery Potential Assessment of Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) in Canada. CSAS 2012/098 J. Schweigert, C. Wood, D. Hay, M. McAllister, J. Boldt, B. McCarter, T.W. Therriault, and H. Brekke
- Information in Support of a Recovery Potential Assessment of Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) in Canada. CSAS 2011/101 C.A. Levesque and T.W. Therriault
- Fraser River Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus): 2007 Population Assessment and Harvest Recommendations for 2008. SAR 2007/048 T.W. Therriault
- 2006 Fraser River Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus): 2006 Population Assessment and Harvest Recommendations for 2007. SAR 2006/039 T.W. Therriault
- 2005 Using an eulachon indicator framework to provide advice on Fraser River harvest opportunities for 2006. CSAS 2005/077 T.W. Therriault and P.B. McCarter
- 2003 Indicators and 'response' points for management of Fraser River eulachon: a comparison and discussion with recommendations. CSAS 2003/051 D.E. Hay, K. West and A.D. Anderson
- 2002 Fraser River Eulachon Biomass Assessments and Spawning Distribution: 1995-2002. CSAS 2002/117 D.E. Hay, P.B. McCarter, R. Joy, M. Thompson and K. West
- 2000 Status of the eulachon Thaleichthys pacificus in Canada. CSAS 2000/145 D.E. Hay and P.B. McCarter
- Estimated bycatch in the British Columbia shrimp trawl fishery. CSAS 2000/168 N. Olsen, J.A. Boutillier and L. Convey
- 1999 Catch composition of British Columbia shrimp trawls and preliminary estimates of bycatch - with emphasis on eulachons. CSAS 1999/26 D.E. Hay, R. Harbo, K. Southy, J.R. Clarke, G. Parker and P.B. McCarter
- Distribution of spawning eulachon stocks in the central coast of British Columbia as indicated by larval surveys. CSAS 1999/177 P.B. McCarter and D.E. Hay
- Assessment of by-catch in the 1997 and 1998 shrimp trawl fisheries in British Columbia, with emphasis on eulachons. CSAS 1999/179 D.E. Hay, R. Harbo, J. Boutillier, E. Wylie, L. Convey and P.B. McCarter
- Eulachon Stock Status Report B6-06 (1999) D. Hay and J. Boutillier
Other online publications
- Population differentiation determined from putative neutral and divergent adaptive genetic markers in Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus, Osmeridae), an anadromous Pacific smelt 2015. Molecular Ecology Resources DOI: 10.1111/1755-0998 J.R. Candy, N.R. Campbell, M.H. Grinnell, T.D. Beacham, W.A. Larson and S.R. Narum
- COSEWIC Status Report - Eulachon 2011. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa.
- Eulachon Past and Present 2008. MSc Thesis UBC. Moody, M.F.
- Life history and age at maturity of an anadromous smelt, the eulachon Thaleichthys pacificus (Richardson) 2007. Journal of Fish Biology 71, 1479-1493 A.D. Clarke, A. Lewis, K.H. Telmer and J.M. Shrimpton
- Stock identification of eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus), an anadromous smelt in the eastern Pacific 2005. ICES CM Documents, International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. 2005/K:14 D.E. Hay and T.D. Beacham
- Population Structure and Stock Identification of Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus), an Anadromous smelt, in the Pacific Northwest 2005. Marine Biotechnology Volume 7, 363:372 T.D. Beacham, D.E. Hay and K.D. Le
- Availability to Stellar sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) of a seasonal prey resource: a prespawning aggregation of eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) 2004. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 61(8):1475-1484. Michael F. Sigler, Jamie N. Womble, and Johanna J. Vollenweider
- Eulachon in the North Coast - Background Report 2001. BC Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management - Skeena Region. Denise Stoffels
- Historic changes in capelin and eulachon populations in the Strait of Georgia 1998. In Back to the Future: Reconstructing the Strait of Georgia Ecosystem. D. Pauley, T. Pitcher and D. Preikshot (editors). University of B.C. Fisheries Centre Research Reports 6 (5) 42:44. D.E. Hay
- The eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) as an indicator species in the North Pacific 1997. In Proceedings Forage Fishes in Marine Ecosystems. Alaska Sea Grant College Program AK-SG-97-01. D. Hay, J. Boutillier, M. Joyce and G. Langford.
- Distribution and preliminary stock assessment (1993) of the eulachon Thaleichthys pacificus in the lower Kitimat River, British Columbia 1995. Can. MS Rept. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 2330 R.V.K. Pedersen, U.N. Orr and D.E. Hay
- BC eulachon offshore indices reported in Shrimp Survey Bulletins (WCVI & QCS).
- Oolichan Grease and a Nass River Camp, B.C.
- Proposal to list eulachon as special concern, threatened or endangered: COSEWIC - Government of Canada - SARA
- Species at Risk Public Registry & COSEWIC Status Government of Canada.
- The Eulachon Discovering Lewis and Clark, Wash. Oregon, USA.
- Columbia River Research Reports Oregon Dept. Fish and Wildlife.
- Recent Columbia Joint Staff Reports (smelt) Oregon Fish and Wildlife.
- Cowlitz/Columbia River Smelt Fishery Management Washington Dept. Fish and Wildlife.
- NOAA fisheries - eulachon listed as threatened Office of Protected Resources.
- Columbia River Eulachon - Aug/2015 Meeting Northwest Power and Conservation Council - Columbia River.
- 2009 Workshop, Prince Rupert, BC
- 2007 Workshop, Richmond, BC
- 2007 Workshop (without appendices)
- Date modified: