Eulachon [yoo-luh-kon] is the official name for a fish that also goes by many others – smelt, ooligan or hooligan, and candlefish, to name a few – and has played a large role in the diets, culture and commerce of the people of the Pacific Northwest since long before Lewis and Clark first arrived. And they are increasingly threatened, which is why they need your help.
But first, let me give you a little background on this iconic fish. In 1806, Meriwether Lewis not only referenced and sketched this small fish in his journal, but went on to praise its deliciousness: “They are so fat they require no additional sauce, and I think them superior to any fish I ever tasted, even more delicate and luscious than the white fish of the lakes which have heretofore formed my standard of excellence among the fishes.”
The scientific name for eulachon, Thaleichthys pacificus, means roughly “oily fish of the Pacific,” and it is indeed their oily nature which has made them so famous. Eulachon oil was such an important trade item for tribes that the trade routes became known as “grease trails”. The name “candlefish” also stems from this quality - if dried and strung on a wick, the fish can actually be burned as a candle.