Small smelt-like eulachon are about 20 centimetres long and prized by First Nations for their oil content.

Small smelt-like eulachon are about 20 centimetres long and prized by First Nations for their oil content.

Iconic oily ‘candlefish’ nears extinction

Endangered species designation for eulachon, while humpback whales continue to rebound

The Fraser River eulachon, an oily smelt-like fish prized by First Nations, has been designated an endangered species after a 98 per cent decline in its numbers over the past decade.

The listing was made by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which warns the outlook is “grim” for the small iconic fish that may be nearing extinction.

Eulachon, also spelled oolichan, is dubbed saviour fish by some aboriginals who counted on it to bridge over gaps in the salmon catch and candlefish by others, because they’re so oily they can be dried and burned like candles.

Some B.C. First Nations rendered eulachon down into a grease that was carried vast distances along historic “grease trails – pre-contact trade routes that connected coastal and inland villages.

“There used to be millions of them,” Sto:lo fishery advisor Ernie Crey said. “But they’re just not there any more.”

COSEWIC cites a mix of potential culprits for the precipitous drop in eulachon stocks, including changing environmental conditions affecting marine survival, predators and fishing.

Crey points to boats in the offshore shrimp trawl fishery, which pull up eulachon as a bycatch along with their shrimp.

“They just jettison them overboard as waste,” he said. “Theres no market for them so there’s no interest in them.”

He also suspects eulachon have been hurt by habitat damage along the lower Fraser from industrial activity.

Log booms on the lower river grind up bark and deposit it on the river bottom, covering spawning habitat, he said.

Channel dredging, boat traffic, municipal sewage and chemical contaminants from farmland may also be factors, he said.

COSEWIC’s decision will go to the federal environment minister, who will consider whether to also designate eulachon under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Crey said a listing under SARA would force the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to take a hard look at fisheries that threaten eulachon, as well as sources of habitat damage, and potentially force corrective action.

Eulachon populations on the central coast are now also rated endangered by COSEWIC, although ones further north in the Skeena and Nass Rivers are only considered “threatened.”

Also now listed endangered is the olive clubtail, a very rare stream-dwelling dragonfly with striking blue eyes that’s found at only a handful of sites in B.C. and has been hurt by habitat loss and activity like beach recreation.

One bright spot in the committee’s findings was that the humpback whale, considered threatened since 1985, has made a steady comeback and is now being downgraded to a “special concern” – a lower risk category.

An estimated 18,000 humpbacks now live in the North Pacific and the population is growing by around six per cent a year.

Humpbacks had been hunted to the edge of extinction but rebounded after whaling ended in 1967.

Just Posted

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

Black Press Media file
Port Hardy RCMP on the hunt for porta-pottie arsonist

The porta-potties were lit on fire early in the morning on June 13

Eke Me-Xi students enjoy a field trip to Malcolm Island. (Submitted photos)
Eke Me-Xi Learning Centre takes field trip to Malcolm Island

Once at Bere Point, students made themselves at home in the day-use area

Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair logo
Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair cancelled again due to COVID-19 restrictions

The 2022 fall fair is still scheduled to take place in Port Hardy

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

A 58-year-old B.C. woman says she was attacked by a deer while out walking her dog last week. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Deer attack in southeastern B.C. leaves woman cut, battered and bruised

Liz Royer says she was out for a run last week when the deer appeared out of a bush and charged

Most Read