Mar 07, 2023

Return of the Oolichan


Return of the Oolichan

The oolichan, or eulachon, is a small, smelt-like fish found in the Pacific Northwest. It holds significant cultural and economic importance to Indigenous communities, including the Haisla Nation. Oolichan migrate from the ocean to freshwater tributaries to spawn, typically during spring, with peak spawning taking place in March.

The Haisla have traditionally harvested the fish during the spring spawning run. Oolichan are an important source of food, medicine and oil. With its strong, distinctive flavour, nutrient-rich oolichan grease is used in traditional Haisla dishes, and because it is flammable, it can also be used for lighting. It’s so oily, in fact, that oolichan can be burned like a candle, which explains why it’s also known as candlefish.

Oolichan are also an important food source for sea lions, seals, gulls, and eagles.

Unfortunately, the oolichan population has declined over the years, and the fish is now considered endangered. The main factors contributing to their decline include habitat loss, a changing climate, overfishing, pollution, and competition for food resources. Conservation efforts are therefore crucial to protect the oolichan and its habitat.

LNG Canada is proud to support such efforts. In 2021, we allocated $2.9 million to the Conservation and Recovery Research on Oolichan in Haisla Territory Project (CAROOHT).

“The CAROOHT project is a great example of industry listening to the concerns of their Indigenous partner, working with government to approve a permitting framework, and utilizing regional expertise to complete the research,” says Robert St. Jean, LNG Canada’s terrestrial environment lead. “Seeing the program grow from an idea to a conceptual plan and now to full execution has been amazing, and I’m proud to have been involved. The research will both advance the scientific knowledge of oolichan and help develop graduate and post-graduate students across British Columbia.”

Led by Ecofish Research Ltd., in partnership with the Haisla Nation and Haisla Fisheries, the University of Northern British Columbia, the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University, Stantec and DFO Fisheries Science and Management, the five-year CAROOHT program is designed to advance scientific knowledge of the fish, and to better understand the presence, distribution and timing of its runs in the Kitimat River and other selected rivers that flow into Douglas Channel and Gardner Canal.

Return of the Oolichan
Drones are used to help advance CAROOHT project work

Funding from LNG Canada helps support this work, which also includes the participation of graduate and post-graduate university students from the partnering universities.

“Taking part in the research program from concept into implementation has been a great experience,” says Candice Wilson, Haisla Nation’s environment manager. “It’s a representation of reconciliation in action, not only with industry but government as well because they truly understand the importance of oolichan to the Haisla Nation. I look forward to continuing this journey of filling the knowledge gaps on the species.”

The study’s findings will help identify and evaluate options to support oolichan recovery efforts and long-term management of oolichan populations, as well as opportunities and methods for oolichan husbandry, oil production, processing, and marketing.

Visit Ecofish’s website

Visit Ecofish Research’s CAROOHT information

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