Species Profile

Eulachon Fraser River population

Scientific Name: Thaleichthys pacificus
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
Range: British Columbia, Pacific Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2011
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.


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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Eulachon

Eulachon Photo 1
Eulachon Photo 2

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Description

Eulachon is an anadromous fish endemic to the Northeastern Pacific, and one of the ten smelt species in the Family Osmeridae.  This species is also referred to as candlefish, oolichan, and ooligan, amongst others.   Eulachon are well known for their high oil content and have great significance to First Nations as a food source and in bartering with other coastal and interior tribes.

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Distribution and Population

Eulachon are found throughout the Pacific Coast from northern California to the eastern Bering Sea. Within British Columbia, Eulachon occur in at least 38 rivers; however, this species spends over 95 percent of its life in the marine environment. Eulachon spawn, almost exclusively, in rivers that have a spring freshet and are glacially fed. Since the mid 1990’s, Eualchon populations south of the Alaska border have declined precipitously and coincidentally.

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Habitat

Eulachon spend more than 95 percent of their life in the marine environment, and only uses freshwater during spawning, egg and early larval stages. After hatching, larval Eulachon quickly move out into the estuary where they spend some months migrating offshore in the fall. Adult Eulachon are demersal and are most frequently found at depths of 70 to more than 200 meters.

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Biology

Eulachon are small and usually less than 20 cm in length; they resemble a small salmon, with an adipose fin and long anal fin, but with a smaller head, more slender body, and without a fleshy flap at the base of the pelvic fin.  Eulachon have distinctive lines on the gill covers.In the ocean, Eulachon live near the bottom and are often associated with shrimps, while feeding on small plankton and euphausiids. The Eulachon is itself a rich food source for a variety of fish and marine mammal predators.

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Threats

The factors causing the coast wide decline of Eulachon populations are unclear.  Threats to individuals as well as their habitat occur in both freshwater and marine environments.  Presently, commercial fisheries for Eulachon are closed.  Historically, commercial fisheries existed on the Fraser, Nass, Skeena, Klinaklini, and Kingcome Rivers.  Recreational fishing in freshwater systems with nets is prohibited and tidal water recreational harvesting is open in areas that do not show conservation concerns. First Nation fisheries for Eulachon once occurred on many rivers, but many are currently closed due to declines in runs.  Eulachon is incidentally caught in commercial fisheries, primarily the shrimp trawl and groundfish trawl.  Habitat degradation occurs at a local scale and varies between spawning rivers.  Activities likely to impact Eulachon mortality include dredging, industrial and agricultural pollution, shoreline development, and forestry. However, it is unlikely that such threats would explain the nearly synchronous coast-wide decline of Eulachon that has occurred. Climate change effects may impact both the marine and freshwater habitats.

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Protection

Federal Protection

Eulachon was assessed by COSEWIC in May 2011 as Threatened for the Nass/Skeena Rivers population, and Endangered for the Central Pacific Coast and Fraser River populations. The Nass/Skeena Rivers population of Eulachon was re-assessed by COSEWIC in May 2013 as Special Concern. Due to conservation concerns Fisheries and Oceans has undertaken several specific activities since 1995 to protect Eulachon, including: closure of the commercial Eulachon fishery on the Fraser; suspension of dredging on the Fraser River during Eulachon spawning season; closure of the shrimp fishery in Queen Charlotte Sound; implementation of bycatch reduction measures in the commercial shrimp trawl fishery including bycatch reduction devices and potential closures when cumulative Eulachon bycatch level is reached; full closure of recreational harvesting for Eulachon in all tidal waters and freshwater systems; and an annual egg/larval survey to monitor stock on the Fraser in conjunction with First Nations.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

4 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Eulachon, Fraser River population (2011)

    This short-lived semelparous species is extremely rich in lipid and spends over 95% of its life in the marine environment. This population’s spawning biomass reached a historic low of only 10 t in 2008. The long term average spawning biomass on the Fraser River may have been about 1000 t. Based on the available spawning stock biomass time series, the 10-year decline rate was estimated to be 98%. The single small spawning area constitutes a single location.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 - 2011 (2011)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings during the past year assessing the status or reviewing the classification of a total of 92 wildlife species.

Consultation Documents