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

Port Hardy council hesitant to formalize question period in agendas, refers it to committee

In first act as new council, representatives were uncertain about formalizing question periods.

Gas prices on Vancouver Island to drop six cents

But a ‘volatile’ market could lead to increases in the coming weeks

Mt. Waddington’s Salvation Army releases eye-opening statistics report for 2017

Shelter overnight stays saw a 431 per cent increase since 2014.

B.C. Legions in need of young members to continue aiding veterans into the future

Lest we forget what thousands of men and women did to fight for Canada’s freedoms – but without new membership, many Legion chapters face dwindling numbers

BC Ferries passengers wait to leave Vancouver Island after Remembrance Day

Traffic aboard BC Ferries slows after Remembrance Day long weekend

People flocking to Vancouver Island city to see hundreds of sea lions

Each year the combination of Steller and California sea lions take over Cowichan Bay

Vancouver Island remembers

Important stories shared as Islanders salute those who made the greatest sacrifice

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh weighs in on Vancouver Island fishing ban

Singh and MacGregor say improving salmon abundance is important

Feds respond to sexual assault investigation at B.C. naval base

Report of Oct. 5 sexual assault on Vancouver Island base taken over by Canadian Forces National Investigation Service

EU divorce deal in peril after two UK Cabinet ministers quit

Negotiators from Britain and the European Union have struck a proposed divorce deal that will be presented to politicians on both sides for approval, officials in London and Brussels said Tuesday.

Northern California fire death toll at 56; 130 missing

Many of the missing are elderly and from Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 to the north of Paradise.

Canfor to buy 70 per cent stake in Swedish Vida Group for $580 million

The privately held company has nine sawmills in southern Sweden with an annual production capacity of 1.1 billion board feet.

Saudi prosecutor seeks death penalty in Khashoggi’s killing

Saudi Arabia’s top prosecutor is recommending the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.

Mixing business and family: Trudeau turns to Singapore ancestors to widen trade

Trudeau’s ancestor, Esther Bernard, born Farquhar (1796-1838) was the daughter of Major-General William Farquhar (1774-1839), the first British Resident and Commandant of Singapore.

Most Read