The Loss of Our Eulachon

"The eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus), a small anadromous smelt (Family Osmeridae) found only along the Northwest Pacific Coast, is poorly understood. Many spawning populations have suffered declines but as their historic status is relatively unknown and the fisheries poorly documented, it is difficult to study the contributing factors . . . "
Megan Moody: Eulachon Past and Present
Graduate Thesis, Resource Management and Environmental Studies, University of British Columbia, 2008.

Left: Nuxalk women with their eulachon catch on the Bella Coola River, c. 1920.

"Springtime in the Nuxalk village of Qomqots (Bella Coola) has always been marked by the arrival of the Sputc, or eulachon, to our river. That is, until about 10 years ago, when they suddenly and sadly disappeared . . . " Jacinda Mack: Eulachon Conference

Right: Nuxalk Glenn Clellaman on the Bella Coola River rowing towards an old eulachon stink house.

This photo was published in the Globe & Mail newspaper on 20 June 2007: "In few places has there been as dramatic a collapse of eulachone as in BC's Bella Coola Valley, where it has been culturally devastating. . . In 1995, when the last big run came in, there were millions of eulachon, so many they spilled out onto the gravel bars in writhing waves. Since then, the river has been nearly empty of fish."

Mark Hume: More Than the Loss of a Resource

Above and left: E.D. Lee, a gillnetter owned by Cecil Moody, used for the Eulachon Project.

Right: Map of eulachon spawning rivers in the Bella Coola area.

"It's… a lost segment of our society so to speak, the Nuxalk society, because there’s a big gap there now. What do you do in the spring time? What do you do before winter ends? [White] people like to watch for the groundhog but our people used to get ready to make eulachon grease."

Megan Felicity Moody and Tony J. Pitcher: Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus): Past and Present   (Fisheries Centre Research Reports, UBC, 2010).

Eulachon smokehouse in a stump, Bella Coola

"The importance of sharing and working together was also something taught to younger generations during the eulachon season. The first catch of the year was always shared with the community, as it was used to feed those who might not have family members to fish for them or who didn’t have the fishing gear to fish. Elder Hazel Hans Sr. recalled that the community always came first, 'When the first eulachons come in. . . they don't put them away in the box. They put the eulachons in the canoe and they call all the peoples to come and just get some to eat' (Nuxalk Interviews, 2006). This seemed to be an unspoken rule throughout the Nuxalk community. The first stuff you got you gave away." Eulachon Past and Present

Nuxalk Marine Use Plan

Left: Lots of fish in the eulachon stink box on the Bella Coola River in the 1930s.

A Nuxalk Marine Use Plan will be developed by the Nuxalk, based on Nuxalkmc customary laws and practices. Our Nuxalk Identity and Spirit are connected directly to our ancestral land and marine resources. As Nuxalkmc, we know that one will not survive without the other. Our Nuxalk ancestors were one with the land and water; which ensured all Nuxalkmc were provided for without sacrificing the needs of future generations. It is our responsibility to honour the wisdom of our ancestors and respect what is provided to us by Tataw.

Many Nuxalk marine resources have suffered a steady decline, some of which are near extinction and require immediate attention. The ooligan comes in such low numbers that the traditional harvest no longer exists. Ceremonial and social impacts of low food fish numbers hurt us deeply. Historic and modern practices of the commercial industry continue to impact our way of life. The Nuxalk people are not defeated. We maintain our sovereignty and will assert our Inherent rights and title to our land and marine resources.

Our hereditary chiefs, elders and community leaders will lead the way, to ensure that our people are always provided. This marine resource management plan will be guided by Nuxalk ancestral laws and knowledge. It is now time for Nuxalkmc to re-establish a healthy balance with our environment. Our Nuxalk customs, traditions, and spiritual values will provide a means of self-reliance and social well-being.

Right: Chief Snuxyaltwa with halibut, 2008.


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