Washington and Oregon Eulachon Management Plan 2nd Edition (Sep 2023)


Eulachon Thaleichthys pacificus are an anadromous species of smelt, native to the west coast of North America. The Columbia River basin historically supported a very large and productive population of Eulachon; however, in 1994, stocks of Eulachon from the Columbia River to the Klinaklini River in British Columbia experienced a nearly simultaneous collapse (Gustafson et al. 2010; Hay and McCarter 2000; Hay et al. 2002).

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) developed the Forage Fish Management Plan in 1998, which provided guiding principles for forage fish conservation and management within Washington (WDFW 1998). In October 2001, WDFW and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), hereafter referred to as “The States”, developed the first Washington and Oregon Eulachon Management Plan (WOEMP). The goal of the WOEMP was to reassess the management framework specifically for Eulachon within the Columbia River (WDFW and ODFW 2001). The States determined that management had historically not been responsive to interannual changes in abundance or distribution and developed the 2001 WOEMP to provide abundance-based guidance for Eulachon management and research activities (WDFW and ODFW 2001).

In 2010, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Biological Review Team (BRT) categorized climate change impacts on ocean conditions (all subpopulations), and Eulachon bycatch in offshore shrimp fisheries (Columbia River and British Columbia subpopulations) as the most serious threats to the persistence of Eulachon (Gustafson et al. 2010). These threats, together with large declines in abundance, indicated to the BRT that Eulachon were at moderate risk of extinction throughout all of its range (Gustafson et al. 2010). These factors collectively led NMFS to list Eulachon as a threatened species under the United States Endangered Species Act (ESA).

On March 18, 2010, NMFS published a final rule in the Federal Register (75 FR 13012) listing the southern distinct population segment (DPS) of Eulachon, (hereafter referred to as Eulachon) as threatened. This listing encompassed all Eulachon within the states of Washington, Oregon, and California, and extended from the Skeena River in British Columbia south to the Mad River in Northern California. These Eulachon were identified and reconfirmed as a distinct population through multiple genetic analyses (McLean et al. 1999, McLean and Taylor 2001, Beacham et al. 2005; Candy et al. 2015; Sutherland et al. 2021).

In 2017, NMFS released the ESA recovery plan for the Southern DPS of Eulachon (NMFS 2017). Within this plan, recovery actions were established, and included the implementation of a limited-opportunity Eulachon fishery (Recovery Action 5.16; NMFS 2017). The goals of this action are to “(1) provide essential context for interpreting historical harvest data to better understand trends and variability in Eulachon abundance; (2) filling critical information gaps such as the length and age structure of spawning Eulachon, as well as the temporal and spatial distribution of the run; (3) supporting the cultural traditions of Northwest tribes who rely on Eulachon as a seasonally important food source; and (4) providing a limited public and commercial opportunity for Eulachon harvest to maintain a connection between people and the Eulachon resource” (NMFS 2017). In reference to Tribal/First Nations fisheries, and recreational and commercial harvest, the recovery action includes a goal to “Minimize impacts related to a directed fishery on Eulachon by developing and implementing an abundance-based fishery management and evaluation plan to ensure that exploitation rates do not negatively impact subpopulation productivity” (Recovery Actions 5.16.1-3; NMFS 2017). After completion of the 2022 five-year review, the listing status of Eulachon remained unchanged; however, NMFS included the development of recovery abundance targets (Gustafson et al. 2022; NMFS 2022).

Considering changes in population status, federal regulations, and new information learned since the first WOEMP was developed, an updated management plan is warranted to adaptively manage the Columbia River Eulachon population. With this update, we intend to provide a flexible and transparent approach to sustainably manage Columbia River basin Eulachon harvests consistent with conservation constraints. Additionally, we hope to provide the necessary information to obtain take coverage for Eulachon fisheries under a 4(d) rule, should coverage be required in the future.

Objectives of Management Plan

The States coordinated the development of this management plan with representatives from NMFS, WDFW, ODFW, the Confederated Bands and Tribes of the Yakama Nation (YN), the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation (CTWS), the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), the Nez Perce Tribe (NPT), and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe (CIT).

The objective of this management plan is to update the 2001 WOEMP for the purpose of sustainably harvesting Eulachon in a manner that does not jeopardize their survival and recovery.

Management Area/Time Period

The management area covered by this plan includes the Columbia River mainstem from the mouth, at a true north-south line through Buoy 10, upstream to Bonneville Dam, and adjacent tributaries including the Cowlitz River, Lewis River, Elochoman River, Kalama River, Grays River, and Deep River in Washington and the Sandy River in Oregon. The Eulachon fishing period may extend from December through May, with fishing generally occurring in February through April.

This plan was written to cover a ten-year management period; however, to account for changes in conservation and recovery status of the species, and consistent with an adaptive management philosophy, The States may periodically review, update, and/or revise this plan.

Draft documents

Draft documents are provided for informational purposes only. Drafts may contain factual inaccuracies and may not reflect current WDFW policy.