The hunt for the eulachon

The history of the little fish

Haisla members and fisheries staff hopped aboard a Rio Tinto BC Works boat for a joint fishing expedition to harvest the highly prized eulachon.

The eulachon arrived in the Kemano River on March 23, which gave BC Works the opportunity to invite some Haisla members to join Haisla Fisheries and Ecofish in Kemano to see and tour the traditional eulachon camps.

BC Works spokesperson Kevin Dobbin said Rio Tinto has worked closely with both the power operations team and the Haisla to ensure there is stable water flow during the eulachon spawning period to provide minimal influence from operations during the spawn and assist with monitoring eulachon spawning success.

“Monitoring of the fishery on the Kemano river has taken place since the early 1990s. A crew of two biologists spend upwards of two to three weeks each year collecting information, monitoring the detection of fish, wildlife tracking, habitat base mapping and assessment of visible egg deposition,” said Dobbin.

In an article by John Kelson shared with the Northern Sentinel by Comox-based publication Watershed Sentinel, Kelson adds further insight on the eulachon – Kelson is a conservation biologist and canopy walkway builder for projects around the world.

* Eulachon live in the ocean and spawn in fresh water like salmon

* Being fairly small (40-70 grams) they are not strong enough to swim far upstream

* Eulachon spawn in spring during low flow and big tides, using the rising tide that reverses the flow of the river to boost them upstream to where they spawn at night in moderate flows over sandy substrates

* Eggs become sticky once fertilized, and ideally stick to clean coarse sand that anchors them for the month or so of incubation

* Saltwater erodes the little attachment that anchors the eggs, so eggs have to stay upstream of saltwater intrusion into the river to avoid being washed out to sea and dying

* Once hatched, larvae drift out to sea quickly and live in nearshore waters, meaning they don’t travel around the Pacific like salmon but remain off the coast in waters up to 300 metres deep. There, for three to five years, they live over sandy bottoms eating krill

* Once mature they lose their large canine teeth and travel in large schools to snowmelt-fed rivers like the Columbia, Fraser, Skeena and Nass. There are approximately 15 rivers in B.C. used by eulachon, all on the mainland

* Spawning occurs in the spring, at the end of a long and potentially hungry winter.

“Eulachon are so abundant they cannot be consumed fresh and various methods have been developed to preserve them. Easiest is sun-dried, and many are still preserved this way especially in the Nass. Many are smoked until they are dried, an effective way of preserving them for up to a year,” writes Kelson.

”However, the preferred method is to render them into grease, essentially ageing them until their tissues become soft enough, that when cooked in hot water, the oil floats to the surface,” said Kelson.

Throughout Pacific coast history, eulachon were prized for their oil, a valuable item that was traded along “grease trails” between coastal and inland communities, the largest trading centre being on the Nass River. Eulachon grease is a super-food, an essential ingredient in First Nations cuisine, and therefore a very valuable trade commodity.

“Modern grease trails are the paved roads of our highway system, but no less important for transport of indigenous foods,” said

In the publication, First Nations Traditional Food Fact Sheet, the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) talks about the importance of the eulachon as a traditional food source for many communities along the Pacific coast, from California up to Alaska.

“Many of the old wooden bowls and spoons collected for museums in the early 19th century still have a shiny patina from eulachon grease. Also known as candlefish, eulachon were harvested in spring, caught with wooden rakes or dip nets or conical traps made of cedar wood, branches, spruce roots or conical nets made of nettle twine.

“It often took all day for the fisherman to empty the overnight catch, from these huge nets, into their dugout spoon canoes and bring the fish to shore. Today, dip nets and conical nets are still used but seine nets are more common.

Eulachon have always been enjoyed fresh, smoke/dried, and as grease. The taste of the grease varies depending on where the fish is from and how it is made.


A traditional Henaksiala/Haisla Jaxwen (Oolichan fish) grease-making camp. (Photos Lisa Grant)

Just Posted

Fire ban back in effect for Northwest Fire Centre region

Starting May 24, both Category 2 and Category 3 prohibitions will be in place

Kelowna company wins contract for LNG Canada project in Kitimat

SK Form & Finish will work with equivalent of 4,000 fully loaded concrete trucks

U.S. tariffs on Canadian aluminium scrapped

Joint effort by industry, government and unions secures deal

Rio Tinto BC Works watching Nechako reservoir levels closely

Dropping water levels could threaten power generation operations

New airline regulations bring compensation for tarmac delays, over-bookings

Some of the new regulations will roll out in July, while others are expected for December.

B.C. port workers set to strike on Monday in Vancouver

A strike at two container terminals would affect Canadian trade to Asia

Scheer says it would take Conservatives five years to balance budget

Scheeraccused the Liberal government of spending $79.5 billion of previously unbudgeted funds

B.C. man, 30, arrested for driving his parents’ cars while impaired twice in one day

The Vancouver-area man was arrested after officers caught him driving impaired twice in one day

More than half of Canadians support ban on handguns, assault rifles: study

Divide between rural and urban respondents in latest Angus Reid Institute public opinion study

Spring rain needed as B.C. sees one of the lowest snowpack levels in 40 years

Snowpack levels in B.C. recorded on May 15 were similar to those in 2015 and 2016

Theresa May to quit as party leader June 7, sparking race for new PM

The new Conservative leader will become prime minister without the need for a general election

B.C. man who fell off cliff returns there to rescue eagle from vulture attack

Nanaimo’s James Farkas, who broke his hip in a fall, saves eagle on same beach months later

Raptors beat Bucks 105-99 to move within 1 game of NBA Finals

Leonard scores 35 as Toronto takes 3-2 series lead over Milwaukee

Most Read