Should NOAA list the Pacific eulachon?
73 Fed. Reg. 13185 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Listing Endangered and Threatened Species: Notification of Finding on a Petition to List Pacific Eulachon as an Endangered or Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act)
SUMMARY: On November 8, 2007, we, NMFS, received a petition to list populations of Pacific eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) in Washington, Oregon, and California as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We find that the petition presents substantial scientific and commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. Accordingly, we will initiate a status review of the species. To ensure that the status review is complete and based upon the best available scientific and commercial information, we solicit information regarding the population structure and status of Pacific eulachon throughout their range in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. Information and comments on the subject action must be received by May 12, 2008.
WHAT’S A EULACHON?: Eulachon (commonly called smelt, candlefish, or hooligan) are endemic to the eastern Pacific Ocean ranging from northern California to southwest Alaska and into the southeastern Bering Sea. Eulachon typically spend 3–5 years in saltwater before returning to freshwater to spawn from late winter through mid spring. Spawning grounds are typically in the lower reaches of larger snowmeltfed rivers
INFORMATION REGARDING EULACHON STATUS AND THREATS: Although eulachon abundance exhibits considerable year-to-year variability, nearly all spawning runs from California to southeastern Alaska have declined in the past 20 years, especially since the mid 1990s. The Cowlitz Indian Tribe, the petitioner, argues that the eulachon face numerous threats, including: habitat loss and degradation; blocked habitat access due to hydroelctric dams; altered flow management; altered delivery of coarse sediments; siltation (especially post-Mount St. Helens); dredging activities in the Cowlitz and Columbia rivers during the eulachon spawning run; high levels of chemical pollutants; susceptibility to overharvest as targeted fish or as bycatch; continuous population decline; and inadequate existing regulatory mechanisms. Finally, the petitioner concludes that global climate change is one of the greatest threats facing eulachon, particularly in the southern portion of its range where ocean warming trends may be the most pronounced.
Photo of eulachon from Alaska by NOAA
COMMENTARY: This listing has the potential to create significant management concerns in the Pacific northwest, and the species has received much attention in Canada. As a pelagic fish, migrating from fresh water habitats to the ocean, the conservation of the eulachon would require widespread management efforts. For example, the species has been studied as a pollution indicator in British Columbia, and in fact Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans website on the Pacific eulachon includes extensive research on the species demonstrating its importance, both as a cultural / food resource, and as an indicator species. See Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans
- An annotated bibliography on the Pacific eulachon, by NOAA