Climate Change, Marine Predation, Trawl By-catch, and Changing Habitat — The Fate of Nass Eulachon?

Eulachon are an extremely important food source to many First Nations on the Pacific coast and play a significant role in the cultural heritage of the Nisga'a Nation. Although eulachon were once plentiful in most spawning rivers in BC, their runs appear to have declined in a number of rivers, particularly in southern areas (Klinaklini, Wannock, and Fraser).   We hear of stocks on the Skeena and in Kemano showing signs of ‘stress' .

Based on available information, concern exists for the long-term sustainability of eulachon runs, worldwide. There may be as few as 30 eulachon runs in the world.  Many runs have declined, but the reasons remain unclear. One possible explanation is climate change, specifically a warming of coastal waters where eulachon live, but there are other explanations, including subtle changes in the hydrology of the relatively small numbers of rivers used for spawning. Industrial pollution has affected eulachon in several rivers, and increased marine mammal predation may be partly responsible as well.

Habitat degradation and off-shore trawl fisheries have exacerbated$ the situation, although measures to reduce the by-catch have been implemented (gear and area closures).  Possible remedial actions include protection of spawning habitat, limiting bycatch, and regulating fisheries by conducting assessments and catch-monitoring programs.

What is the fate of Nass Eulachon? To help understand the status of our stocks, future Nass River management will depend on the ability to assess eulachon spawning runs. Nisga'a citizens have provided Nisga'a Fisheries with catch information since 1997.  In 2007, DFO restricted trawlers at the mouth of the Nass River during the eulachon run after recommendations from the JFMC addressing citizen's concerns in 2006 that the migration school was affected from two trawlers in the area. While catches have ranged from 30 to 350 tonne since 1997, we know very little about the status of Nass River eulachon.

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Eulachon feedback welcome, please email

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