Estimated Reading time

2 Mins

Nisga’a Oolichan Harvesting Featured in New Educational Resource Book

Nisg̱a’a fisherman harvest oolichan through the ice at Fishery Bay. Photo by Nicole Morven.

Wave of the Future! is a new interactive educational resource that connects children across Canada to the value of the ocean and the blue economy. Developed by the Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship (COVE), this free resource features quizzes, activities, and design thinking challenges.

Chapter Two, “Feeding the World with the Blue Economy,” highlights the traditional ocean harvesting practices and technologies of coastal B.C. First Nations, including a section written by Nicole Morven—Fisheries Technician with the Nisga’a First Nations’ Fisheries and Wildlife Department—and Coast Funds about oolichan harvesting by Nisg̱a’a people throughout history.

Nicole Morven, Fisheries Technician with the Nisg̱a’a Fisheries and Wildlife Department, holds up an oolichan while collecting samples at Fishery Bay. Photo by Nicole Morven.

The featured section in Wave of the Future! explains that, “the oolichan is a fish of many names: eulachon, ooligan, hooligan. It is sometimes called candlefish because it is so high in oil content that when dried it can be fitted with a wick and used as a candle. To scientists it is Thaleichthys pacificus. To the Nisga’a it is saak, or the saviour fish.” The section goes on to briefly explain the history and significance of traditional oolichan harvesting by the Nisg̱a’a up to the present day, in a way that is specially geared to young learners.

COVE is releasing this resource, chapter by chapter over five weeks across Canada, in both English and French. While aimed at children in grades 5-6, Wave of the Future! can be adapted for older or younger learners and is being offered for free to all users.

The Saviour Fish: Protecting Nisg̱a’a Connection to Oolichan


Saak (oolichan), the Nisg̱a’a Nation’s saviour fish, hang to dry at a camp along the Nass River. Photo by Brodie Guy.

After Ḵ’alii Aksim Lisims (Nass River) oolichan were assessed as a species of special concern, the Nisg̱a’a Lisims Government undertook a multi-year research project that would protect their connection to the culturally important fish.

For thousands of years, the Nisg̱a’a people have harvested oolichan from Ḵ’alii-Aksim Lisims, the Nass River. It is their saviour fish, its arrival signaling winter is over and the season of harvest has begun.

The devastating collapse of oolichan stocks across the coast of British Columbia has impacted First Nations’ culture and access to traditional foods. In 2011, when the Ḵ’alii-Aksim Lisims oolichan was assessed as “threatened” by the COMMITTEE ON THE STATUS OF ENDANGERED WILDLIFE IN CANADA (COSEWIC), the Nisg̱a’a Nation worried its connection to oolichan might also be in danger.

In 2013, after pushing for a re-assessment of oolichan as a “Species of Special Concern,” the NISGA’A FISHERIES AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT undertook a multi-year research project that would provide concrete evidence of the fish’s population, support its efforts at conserving the oolichan population, and ensure Nisg̱a’a citizens can continue to harvest the fish each year.