Proposed Action to Protect Threatened Pacific Eulachon is a Step in the Right Direction
Press Release Date: January 7, 2011
The threatened fish species, eulachon, a type of Pacific smelt, may soon receive much needed critical habitat designation. Scientists at Oceana find the government proposal is a step in the right direction but emphasize that protections are needed in the open ocean as well. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries) proposed to designate 292 miles of estuary and river habitat as “critical habitat” for the southern population of Pacific eulachon within the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. Eulachon are one of many forage species serving as an important food source for commercial and recreationally important fish species, seabirds, and marine mammals.
Ben Enticknap, Oceana Project Manager says, “Designating eulachon critical habitat in freshwater creeks, rivers, and estuaries is a necessary step, but ignoring their ocean habitat falls tremendously short of much needed protections for this species. Eulachon spend 98% of their lives at sea, and must be protected in the ocean as well as freshwater spawning habitats.”
Locations of open ocean eulachon populations are apparent because they suffer from bycatch in the trawl pink shrimp fishery off Oregon, northern California, and Washington. Over 23,800 pounds of eulachon were caught as bycatch in the pink shrimp fishery in 2009; that is roughly 208,000 individuals of this threatened species. NOAA has information on the location of these fisheries and should include critical habitat designation in ocean areas where these fish spend the vast majority of their life.
“The decline of the Pacific eulachon highlights the need for comprehensive protections for forage species. Forage fish are highly susceptible to climate change and fishery impacts, but without healthy forage populations, salmon, whales, dolphins and many other species will suffer,” says Enticknap.
The health and biodiversity of the California Current ecosystem depends on how we manage the food web. Forage species like eulachon are important prey for Pacific hake, Pacific salmon, Pacific halibut, and Pacific cod. Oceana will continue to work with NOAA on critical habitat designation for eulachon in addition to working to improve management for all West Coast forage species.
Oceana campaigns to protect and restore the world’s oceans. Our teams of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates win specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and to prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, marine mammals and other sea life. Global in scope and dedicated to conservation, Oceana has campaigners based in North America (Washington, DC; Juneau, AK; Kotzebue, AK; Portland, OR; Monterey, CA; New York, NY), Europe (Madrid, Spain; Brussels, Belgium)Central America (Belize City, Belize) and South America (Santiago, Chile). More than 500,000 members and e-activists in over 150 countries have already joined Oceana.