Smelt are shoaling fish, distantly related
to the salmon. They live in the salty water of estuaries and
around the mouths of rivers. During May to August the smelt
come upriver to spawn in fresh water before then returning to the
Smelt are silvery-green in colour and
usually around 20cm long, although they can grow to twice that
Threats to smelt populations include
pollution and overfishing – smelt was once a delicacy and is now
fished for pike bait. Smelt are also threatened by the loss of
their habitat, especially spawning grounds, which may be destroyed
by silting or construction. They may also be prevented from
reaching their spawning grounds because of weirs or other
Most of the recorded populations in Scotland are now extinct, as
are a third of those from estuaries in England and Wales.
Populations can recover in areas where several estuaries
interconnect, as one can restock another. However, once smelt
have become locally extinct from isolated estuaries (such as the
Tyne), they will not return.
Other common names
Smelt are found throughout Western Europe and breed in a number
of English rivers but are rare in Scotland and Wales.
- This is a UK BAP Priority Species (BAP species are now
Species of Principal Importance/Priority
- Species of principal importance for the purpose of conservation
of biodiversity under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities
Life Information Network
Marine Species Identification Portal
England Research Report - "The status of smelt (Osmerus
eperlanus) in England)"
World Register of Marine Species
JNCC - UK BAP Priority
Species and Habitats