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REPORTING · 4th April 2011
Merv Ritchie
Note correction below submitted by reader
The harvesting of the spring Oolichan run has been taking place for weeks now on the Skeena and Nass Rivers. First Nations fisherman are sharing their harvest with their families and the elders are engaged in all the various ways of preserving and using the bountiful supply of this small fish.

These pictures are of Oolichans sliced in two up to their gills, cleaned and hung on long rods for smoking.

The runs of Oolichans are generally so thick and plentiful they can be scooped by the bucketful directly from the rivers. Huge vats are collected and left to render into pools of thick grease, a traditional food stuff historically traded across Western Canada as a prized treasure. Most will eat them whole like a sardine when fresh. There are numerous ways to cook and preserve this delicacy.

Although it is a delicacy among the First Nations, white politicians have lampooned the strong flavour. In the BC Provincial legislature in June of 1991, Socred Cabinet Bruce Strachan was engaged in a debate about health care services in the Nass Valley when this exchange occurred;

“Finally, you said you'd like to discuss a lot of issues in detail, and my brave assistant deputy minister, Chris Lovelace, has volunteered to go north and visit. We'll send you when the snow flies.”

Another MLA yelled out, “Will he eat oolichan grease when he's there?”

To which Strachan replied, “Oh, I don't know. Will he eat oolichan grease? Sure. I think that's a feature more of.... I certainly wouldn't eat oolichan grease if I were there. Some of the best salmon-fishing in the world is in that area, and lots of other things are far better and tastier to eat.”

Correction by Mansell Griffin;

Those oolichans are not sliced in half.

Each pair is in fact two oolichans which have been joined together by sliding the head of one through the gills and mouth of another. the gills of the first oolichan are then opened again to prevent it from sliding back out.

You dont see this done too often for smoking the oolichans but it is common for sun drying.

With respect to rendering the oil.... I suspect your brief description could have been worded better. Your statement that the oolichans are left to render into pools of thick grease suggests that we just leave them there until they become oil. Though the oolichans do sit in large bins for a period of time they are not simply left there until the become oil. The rendering process is one of boiling them and allowing the rendered oil to rise to the surface.


Ed note: Thank you, we stand corrected!
Crazy about Oolichans.
Comment by Janice P. Robinson on 8th April 2011
Winter is not over until I have had my first feed of fresh oolichans. Fried. With steamed rice. Maybe ten....or a dozen. With other oolichan-happy people. A cup of tea, and something sweet for dessert.

Congratulations to Nicole and Carolyn....and all other Rez Sisters and Brothers who have been hanging, smoking, salting, freezing, bagging, yakking, laughing and sharing.

All thanks to the humble oolichan.
Fish!
Comment by Pat on 4th April 2011
http://ges.nisgaa.bc.ca/2011/04/fishery-bay-doolans-camp/

Oolichans in spring
Comment by BC Mary on 4th April 2011
Now I'm suffering terrible homesickness ... oolichans in springtime! Smoked oolichan ... what a lovely thought!
oolichans
Comment by Mansell Griffin on 4th April 2011
those oolichans are not sliced in half.

Each pair is in fact two oolichans which have been joined together by sliding the head of one through the gills and mouth of another. the gills of the first oolichan are then opened again to prevent it from sliding back out.

You dont see this done too often for smoking the oolichans but it is common for sun drying.

With respect to rendering the oil.... I suspect your brief description could have been worded better. Your statement that the oolichans are left to render into pools of thick grease suggests that we just leave them there until they become oil. Though the oolichans do sit in large bins for a period of time they are not simply left there until the become oil. The rendering process is one of boiling them and allowing the rendered oil to rise to the surface.

Ed note: Thank you, we stand corrected!