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

Sewage fees going up 10% in Harrison Hot Springs

Residential homes will pay $22.50 more in 2019 to flush their toilets

AESS senior girls eyeing spot in basketball provincials

The team needs to move up one more ranking get a place in the championships

End ‘exploitative’ parking fees at Lower Mainland hospitals, group says

HospitalPayParking.ca is criticizing a new contract between health authorities and Impark

B.C.’s best craft distilleries back in Chilliwack for Fraser Valley Distillery Festival

Small-batch spirits, appetizers, live music, candy and more come together for FV Distillery Festival

Agassiz man charged in 2014 snake venom death of toddler

Henry Thomas was taking care of the North Vancouver girl the day before she died

VIDEO: Harrison sailor looking for competitors to race model boats

Bernhard Van Velze is hoping to create a club for model sailboats at Harrison Lake

Video: Runaway Coquihalla dog returned to owner

Archer, the dog found roaming along Coq. Hwy. on Jan. 19, has been reunited with owner

Liberals look to make home-buying more affordable for millennials: Morneau

Housing is expected to be a prominent campaign issue ahead of October’s federal election

Canadian navy plans to extend life of submarines

The fleet has turned a corner after a troubled start

Abbotsford woman speaks out after she fainted and bystanders ignored her

Meghan Canavan says bystanders walked by with no offer of help after she fainted recently

Cannabis-carrying border crossers could be hit with fines under coming system

Penalties are slated to be in place some time next year

Man accused of threatening to kill ‘as many girls as I see’

Christopher W. Cleary wrote he was angry because he’d never had a girlfriend and wanted to ‘make it right’ with a mass shooting

Canadian talent abound on newly revamped Vancouver Whitecaps squad

Lineup is full of new faces after the organization parted ways with 18 players over the off-season

Most Read