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

Four years for manslaughter in Surrey drive-by shooting

Mahdi Halane was rendered a quadriplegic until his death in hospital six years later at age 24.

Author at Surrey event glad to have book published ‘before reality totally overtakes fiction’

Ari Goelman, a business and criminology instructor, speaks at KPU Reads gathering Jan. 22

Cloverdale banker shares his love of swing dancing

Cloverdale’s Phillip Kunz shows dancing newcomers how to get into the swing of things

White Rock cannabis and adult entertainment bylaws to move to public hearings

Council will seek input on potential of allowing contentious businesses in city limits

SURREY EVENTS GUIDE for Jan. 17 and beyond

Plays, concerts, fundraisers and more in our weekly guide for Surrey and area

VIDEO: Orcas put on a show near Hornby Island

Louis Jobodin shares photos and video of his experience

Body discovered in burnt out car near Trail

Police report a body was found in the burnt out trunk of a 1999 Honda Civic

VIDEO: B.C. Lions sign defensive back T.J. Lee to contract for upcoming season

The four-year veteran had a team-high four interceptions and 49 tackles last season with B.C.

How an immigrant to Canada helped Donald Trump prove his mental health

Test that cleared Trump was developed by doctor associated with McGill and Sherbrooke universities

Premier touches on multiple topics ahead of Asia trade trip

Housing and childcare are expected to be the focus of the BC NDP’s first budget in February.

UPDATE: Friends mourn boy, 15, killed in Vancouver shooting

John Horgan: ‘No stone is to be left unturned until we find the perpetrator of this heinous crime’

VIDEO: Explorers uncover Canada’s deepest cave in Fernie

The cave, named Bisaro Anima, was confirmed to have broken the record on New Year’s Day

Vernon to host largest Special Olympics B.C. Winter Games in 2019

Games to be held Feb. 21-23, with more than 800 athletes expected to take part

Ex-BC Liberal staffer focused on ‘favourable’ ethnic communities in scandal: lawyer

Former communications director Brian Bonney’s sentencing hearing for breach of trust is underway

Most Read