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Conservation status of eulachon in the California Current


Richard G. Gustafson, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, WA 98112, USATel.: 206 860-3372Fax: 206 860-3335


Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus), an anadromous smelt in the Northeast Pacific Ocean was examined for listing under the USA’s Endangered Species Act (ESA). A southern Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of eulachon – that occurs in the California Current and is composed of numerous subpopulations that spawn in rivers from northern California to northern British Columbia – was identified on the basis of ecological and environmental characteristics, and to a lesser extent, genetic and life history variation. Although the northern terrestrial boundary of this DPS remains uncertain, our consensus opinion was that this northern boundary occurs south of the Nass River and that the DPS was discrete from more northern eulachon, as well as significant to the biological species as a whole and thus is a ‘species’ under the ESA. Eulachon have been nearly absent in northern California for over two decades, have declined in the Fraser River by over 97% in the past 10 years, and are at historically low levels in other British Columbia rivers in the DPS, and nearly so in the Columbia River. Major threats to southern eulachon include climate change impacts on ocean and freshwater habitat, by-catch in offshore shrimp trawl fisheries, changes in downstream flow timing and intensity owing to dams and water diversions, and predation. These threats, together with large declines in abundance, indicate that the southern DPS of eulachon is at moderate risk of extinction throughout all of its range. The southern DPS was listed as threatened under the ESA in May 2010 – the first marine forage fish to be afforded these statutory protections, which apply only to waters under U.S. jurisdiction.