Skagway’s Traditional Council, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and the Taiya Watershed Council have announced intent to collaborate on a project studying eulachon fish in the Taiya River.
Also known as hooligan, the eulachon have been an important staple in the lives of area residents for generations, according to a press release from the National Park Service.
Oil rendered from the eulachon has historically been used as medicine, food and a trade item. Before the Klondike Gold Rush, Chilkoot natives traded the fish with First Nations neighbors; this commerce is why the famous Chilkoot Trail is also referred to as the “grease trail,” according to the release.
The two-year project will begin in April, and will be conducted alongside studies by the Chilkat Indian Association and Takshanuk Watershed Council in Haines. It will involve installing traps and using nets to determine the location and productivity of spawning areas and collecting data on the timing of eulachon runs.
“I’m just excited to get the projects going, because it’s the first real study of hooligan in this area, so it will be interesting to see what the size of the run is, and how many hooligan are using the Taiya to spawn,” said Nicole Kovacs, Indian General Assistance Program coordinator for the traditional council. “And how it changes from year to year as well, like if the weather affects it, or snow melt and other factors like that.”
Kovacs said the NPS will head the study at the beginning, with the hope of passing the torch to the traditional council down the line.
The eulachon are small, silver-colored fish, which spawn in mid-April. The release states this can cause a feeding frenzy by marine predators like sea lions and harbor seals, as well as gulls, eagles and other birds.
“You can tell when they [eulachon] are about to run, because you’ll notice more birds, more sea lions coming back up, the whales come back up,” Kovacs said. “There are lots of wildlife indicators that they are coming.”
This will be the first full year of the study, and marks the first attempt to formally gather information to assess the status of “this critical element to the food chain in the Taiya River,” the release states.
Counting the eulachon will allow park staff to document the timing and peak of the spawning period. As many as 50 female eulachon will be collected and preserved to determine the average number of eggs per female; all other females and males will be released unharmed after measurements are taken.