British Columbia

Eulachon fish run draws crowds along B.C.'s Skeena River

The eulachon — a fish not totally understood by science or capitalism — is suddenly a star, as spectators have gathered in droves to watch the run down B.C.'s Skeena River.

First Nations hope new-found interest in traditional fish leads to more scientific research

Eulachon are prepared for smoking in Kitimaat village. The fish are traditionally used by First Nations along the Pacific coast, but aren't fished commercially. (Sam Beebe/Flickr)

The eulachon fish —  not totally understood by science or capitalism — is suddenly a star, as spectators gather in droves to watch the oily, shiny fish make their run down B.C.'s Skeena River. 

"Usually we're the first one to get eulachons every year — my nephews and I — and there's 17 cars by that little location bay before you get the kayaks.

"17 cars that one spot, holy smokes!" Clarence Nelson, a hereditary chief with Lax Kw'alaams First Nation told Daybreak North's George Baker.​

The run is drawing spectators, not fishermen, because of the show that comes with it — when sea lions, eagles and other wildlife chase after the fish.

Sea lions are hunting for eulachon, drawing crowds of spectators. (Darren Davies/Facebook)

The eulachon — also known as the oolichan, hooligan, ooligan, candlefish or Pacific Smelt — has no market value and isn't eaten widely in Canada by non-aboriginal people.

Due to the fact that Fisheries and Oceans Canada doesn't consider it economically viable, it's often ignored by scientific research.

Nelson and other First Nations leaders have called on the government to pay more attention to the fish, and the new-found attention could be what the eulachon needs to get noticed.

Some research has already begun, through the Coastal First Nations and the North Coast Skeena Stewardship Society.

"On a typical survey we will drive out and as soon as the highway hits the river we start stopping at regular intervals," said biologist Jessica Hwaryshyn.

"We take observations of the seagulls and sea lions and seals and eagles and then on our way back we'll actually stop at fishing sites and start talking to harvesters."

While Nelson has wanted scientific researchers to pay more attention to the fish — he's worried that more people along the river could change the current run.

"People don't realize how sensitive they are to activity along the bank," he said.

Nelson said he caught 500 pounds of eulachon on one of his recent trips out on the Skeena.

To hear from people who have gathered along the banks of the Skeena to watch the eulachon run, click the audio labelled: Eulachon run draws big crowds.

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