Forage Fish
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Closeup photo of Pacific Eulachon with descriptions of identifying anatomy.
Photo: Closup of a Eulachon head and mouth Photo: Group of four Eulachon on a table with a ruler
Photo: Full length photo of a Eulachon

Forage Fish Identification Guide

Pacific Eulachon (aka Oolichan, Hooligan)
Thaleichthys pacificus

Rarely caught in Puget Sound by commercial or recreational harvesters.  Incidentally caught off the Washington coast by commercial harvesters during trawl fisheries.  Until 2010 was commercially and recreationally harvested in large numbers in the Columbia and Cowlitz Rivers.  Localized fisheries still occur in this area when surplus biomass is available.  The southern Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of Pacific Eulachon was listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as a threatened species and retention is prohibited unless by emergency regulation. 

Description: Pacific Eulachon are a small, slim fish that are brown to blue on their backs and on top of their heads, lighter to silvery white on the sides, and white on the belly.  They have tiny black dots on the back and sometimes on the caudal fin.  They have a sickle-shaped adipose fin and can be distinguished from other smelt species by the presence of circular grooves on their gill cover.  As they move into freshwater to spawn, fish turn grey-brown and males develop tubercles on their heads and on the scales along the lateral line.

Maximum Size: To 25.4 cm (10 in) in length and 138 g (0.3 lbs) in weight.

Maximum Age: At least 9.

Range/Habitat: Pacific Eulachon range from northern California to southwest Alaska and into the southeast Bering Sea.  Major populations concentrate near the Columbia River on the Washington/Oregon border and the Fraser River in British Columbia, Canada.  Unlike most marine forage fish, Pacific Eulachon travel up rivers into fresh water to spawn.  Fertilized eggs adhere to river substrates and incubate for 3 to 4 weeks depending on temperature.  Larvae are flushed out to sea within days of hatching.  Pacific Eulachon schools rear in nearshore areas in shallow depths and move out to sea into greater depths as they grow.  Pacific Eulachon have been found as deep as 470 m (1,542 ft).  They are a major prey base for many marine mammals, birds and fish species. 

Additional Information


Photo: WDFW