NOAA Fisheries seeks input on recovery plan for eulachon

October 2016

NOAA Fisheries is inviting comments on a proposed blueprint for the recovery of the southern Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of eulachon, a smelt that spawns in coastal rivers such as the Columbia River Estuary and has long served as a staple for Northwest tribes and others.

The proposed recovery plan covers fish that spawn in rivers south of British Columbia’s Nass River down to the Mad River in California. The DPS experienced an abrupt decline in numbers in the mid-1990s and was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2010.

Although eulachon abundance in monitored rivers has generally improved, especially in the 2013–2015 return years, recent poor ocean conditions and the likelihood that these conditions will persist into the near future suggest that population declines may be widespread in upcoming return years.  That makes it too early to tell whether recent improvements in the southern DPS of eulachon will persist or whether they will return to the severely depressed abundance of the mid-late 1990s and late 2000s. 

The main threats to eulachon include climate change impacts on ocean [DD1] and river habitats, bycatch in offshore shrimp fisheries, dams and diversions in the Klamath and Columbia Rivers, and predation in British Columbia coastal rivers.

Eulachon, and the valuable grease they produce, formed a cornerstone of Native American trade in the Northwest, often transported hundreds of miles over “grease trails” to reach inland tribes. Because eulachon return to spawn in late winter and early spring when other food was scarce, they became known as “savior” or “salvation” fish.

The recovery plan for eulachon is based on the best available science and adopts an adaptive management approach of monitoring the response to recovery actions and updating activities as new information emerges. Eulachon recovery could take 25 to 100 years, with an estimated cost over the first five years of about $14.75 million.

View the proposed recovery plan on the Pacific Eulachon page, which also includes instructions for submitting comments on the recovery plan.

Home page photo: Blane Bellerud, NOAA Fisheries