The eulachon, also hooligan, ooligan, or candlefish, is a small anadromous ocean fish, Thaleichthys pacificus, a smelt found along the Pacific coast of North America from northern California to Alaska. It feeds primarily on plankton as well as fish eggs, insect larvae, and small crustaceans. It forms an important part of the diet of many ocean and shore predators, and serves as a prominent food source for people living near its spawning streams.
The common names of this fish have a somewhat confusing relationship. The name "candlefish" derives from the fact that it is so fat during spawning, with up to 15% of total body weight in fat, that if caught, dried, and strung on a wick, it can be burned as a candle. This is the name most often used by early explorers. The name "eulachon" (occ. "oolichan", "oulachon", "uthlecan", etc.) is from the Chinookan language and the Chinook jargon based on that language. The name "hooligan" appears to have been derived from "eulachon" by similarity with the English slang term for a ruffian or scoundrel which gained currency in the late 19th century.
Eulachon, as anadromous fish, spend most of their adult lives in the ocean but return to their natal freshwater streams and rivers to spawn and die. As such, one stream may see regular large runs of eulachon while a neighboring stream sees few or none at all. Regular annual runs are common but not entirely predictable, and occasionally a river which has large runs sees a year with no returns; the reasons for such variability are not known. The eulachon run is characteristic for the early portion being almost entirely male, with females following about midway through the run to its conclusion. Males are easily distinguished from females during spawning by fleshy ridges which form along the length of their bodies.
Indigenous communities of the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska made eulachon an important part of their diet, as well as a valuable trade item with peoples whose territories did not include spawning rivers. The species was caught using traps, rakes, and nets. The harvest continues today, with other residents taking part in the exploitation of the large runs. Today harvested eulachon are typically stored frozen and thawed as needed. They may also be dried, smoked, or canned. Eulachon were also processed for their rich oil. The usual process was to allow the fish to decompose for a week or more and then boil the carcasses in large cauldrons. The rendered oil would rise to the surface where it could be skimmed off. Eulachon oil (also known as "grease") formed a valuable trade commodity for coastal people, and the numerous passes through the coastal mountains used for this trade were called "grease trails". Other uses of eulachon by non-Natives include bait for sportsfishing and food for cats and dogs.
candlefish in German: Kerzenfisch
candlefish in French: Thaleichthys pacificus
candlefish in Dutch: Thaleichthys pacificus