a eulachon fish on a white background
Eulachon in ocean coloration.
Photo: Royal B.C. Museum

(Thaleichthys pacificus)

Other names: Hooligan, Candle Fish

Eulachon are small fish between 4-12 inches in total length. They can be distinguished from other small forage fish species by the dorsal fin located far back on the body and by circular grooves on the gill covers. The mouth is equipped with canine-like teeth which are lost as the fish approach spawning. Eulachon at sea are blue-silver in color but turn to gray-brown during spawning. Spawning males also develop tubercles (small bony ridges) on the head and on the scales along the lateral line. The name candle fish originated from the oil rendered from these fish by coastal Alaska native people as fuel for lamps. The rendered oil was also a prized (and very nutritious) edible delicacy, and trade item. Fish were eaten fresh, dried, and smoked.

two silvery eulachon fish laying side by side
Eulachon in spawning coloration.

Abundance, distribution, and natural history

Twenty five records currently exist for eulachon which are known to have spawned during past years in at least nine streams within the Park and Preserve. Eulachon are typically found in larger river systems. The Alsek and East Alsek Rivers within the Preserve are thought to have the largest runs. Smaller runs exist in the Doame, Dixon, and Excursion rivers as well as Dog Salmon, Clear and Sea Otter creeks. Unconfirmed reports also exist for Topsy, Eagle, Echo, Justice creeks (along the outer coast) and the Godess River in Adams Inlet. Runs usually begin in March or April and are typically over by the 1st of May. Run timing and strength may vary dramatically from year to year in some river systems while others are more predictable. Sea birds and bald eagles can often be seen in large numbers foraging on this species along rivers during eulachon returns. Steller sea lions often aggregate along the Alsek and East Alsek rivers during the eulachon run.

a large group of stellar sea lions laying on a sand bar near turquoise waters
Steller’s sea lion aggregation at the mouth of the Alsek River, Dry Bay National Preserve, in April.
NPS Photo: Lexa Meyer

Conservation measures and concerns

Little is known about the exact distribution of eulachon in the park and preserve due to the early run timing and year to year variability of this species. Eulachon populations appear to be stable in Alaska, but certain stocks elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest are being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act, mostly due to habitat loss. The early run timing, high oil content, and large spawning aggregations make eulachon an important “bonanza” food source for other marine, terrestrial and avian species in the early spring following lean winter months. No commercial fishery exists for eulachon in the park and preserve and only a limited amount of subsistence harvest occurs in the Excursion, Alsek, and East Alsek Rivers.

Last updated: February 8, 2018

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Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve
PO Box 140

Gustavus, AK 99826


(907) 697-2230

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