The eulachon fishery at Bella Coola is something 34-year-old Megan Moody remembers from her childhood.
When she was a kid she and her friends would hang around the stink boxes when the adults were making eulachon grease.
“We could just pick the fish up out of the river because the river was low and the fish were going through the shallow waters and you could collect a bucket yourself,” Moody recalls.
As a biologist and co-ordinator for the Central Coast First Nations’ new organization called the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance, Moody works with the nations on different fisheries projects or provides technical support through the organization.
She’s working with the Nuxalk (Bella Coola) and the Wuikinuxv (Rivers Inlet) on eulachon studies this year.
The last time there was eulachon fishery in and around Bella Coola was 1998, which means there are children who have no memory of the fishery.
“We’re finding that the younger kids, because it’s been gone 14 years now, don’t know what an eulachon even looks like. They’ve probably heard stories about grease and things like that, but never seen it,” Moody says.
Before the fishery collapsed, people were noticing slight declines, but in 1996 there was a really strong run.
“The river was black,” Moody says.
There were probably less than that the next couple of years, but locals told Moody the runs always came in cycles, with some years stronger than others.
Every four years or so there’d been a really strong run.
“What was shocking was that people were out fishing in 1998 and the next year they couldn’t see any. I’m sure there were some stragglers coming in like we’re seeing now, but because there were not any large amounts people were wondering where they had gone.”
It’s been like that ever since.
“You can’t fish it or anything. The measurements are in pounds of fish, instead of the tons they once were.”
While it’s not harvestable, the fishery continues to be tracked, she adds.
Numbers from 2011 haven’t been analyzed yet, and 2012’s analysis is in progress. However, Moody thinks there is a small improvement, although very, very low.
Historically local First Nations in the Nuxalk territory fished for eulachon on 10 local rivers systems.
The Bella Coola River was the most fished because the village is located right on the river.
“We used to have other village sites throughout the territory where eulachon were fished, but nobody lives there now,” Moody explains.
During 2005 and 2006, while working on her master’s thesis, Moody interviewed local Nuxalk elders about the eulachon fishery and many suggested the shrimp trawl fishery has led to the drastic decline of eulachone, due to the use of bottom trawlers that captured other species that it’s not targeting.
“Whether it’s eulachon or ground fish, all sorts of other things get caught when you do an un-selective fishery,” Moody says.
Through the interviews, she also learned about varying uses for the eulachon grease, including some that were medicinal and others nutritional.
“When whooping cough was really bad they’d soak a cloth in eulachon grease and wrap the child in it. It would help bring up the bad phlegm. I’ve heard it was used for curing dandruff, the common cold, preserving bread. All these sorts of different uses you wouldn’t normally think of.”
The fish, she adds, has nutrients that butter doesn’t have.
Eulachon are up for a species at risk on the central coast of B.C. and there have been a couple of community meetings scheduled in Bella Coola.