- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Environmental Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Osmerus eperlanus (Linnaeus, 1758)
International Common Names
- English: European smelt
- Spanish: eperlano
- French: eperlan
Local Common Names
- Finland: kuore
- Germany: Stint
- Netherlands: spiering
- Sweden: nors
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
Unlike other Osmerus species there is practically no evidence that O.eperlanus is invasive. On the contrary, many former populations have become extinct and this species is included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as 'Least Concern' (http://www.iucnredlist.org/). Only a few populations have ever become established from planned introductions.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Metazoa
- Phylum: Chordata
- Subphylum: Vertebrata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Osmeriformes
- Family: Osmeridae
- Genus: Osmerus
- Species: Osmerus eperlanus
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
Most authors (e.g. Belyanina, 1958; Maitland, 2004) consider the European smelt to be a single species O. eperlanus.Kottelat and Freyhof (2007) tentatively suggest that 'available data do not exclude the possibility' of Osmerus eperlanus, on the basis of gill-raker numbers, being split into two separate species - O. eperlanus itself, a largely freshwater form from coastal areas of the Baltic, White and Barents Seas; and O. schonfoldi, a mainly anadromous form from the southern Baltic, North and Atlantic Seas. In the southern Baltic, Poland and Denmark, the two forms would be sympatric. There are no genetic data available to confirm that this is indeed the case however.
DescriptionTop of page
O. eperlanus is a small to medium-sized fish whose adult size varies greatly according to habitat (Nellbring, 1989; Maitland, 2000; Davies et al., 2003; Kottelat and Freyhof, 2007). The normal range in length is 10-20 cm but some fish reach 30 cm. In general, fish from non-migratory freshwater populations are much smaller than those which have lived in the sea. It is a slender fish with large scales and eyes, a large mouth with a projecting lower jaw and obvious teeth on both jaws. It has a fleshy adipose fin between the dorsal and tail fins. Dorsal soft rays: 9-12; anal soft rays: 12-16; vertebrae: 55-62 (Froese and Pauly, 2012). Dorsal side light olive green, flanks silver stripe, belly creamy white (Froese and Pauly, 2012).
DistributionTop of page
O. eperlanus is found mainly as an anadromous form in the coastal waters, especially large estuaries, of the eastern Atlantic (from the Clyde in Scotland south to the Garonne in France), and of the North, Baltic, Barents and White Seas. Non-seagoing, purely freshwater populations occur in some lakes in coastal regions of the North, Baltic, Barents and White Seas (Maitland, 2007, Kottelat and Freyhof, 2007). Many former populations, including one in the UK (Rostherne Mere) have become extinct.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Atlantic, Northeast||Present||Native||Not invasive||Kottelat and Freyhof, 2007|
|-Alaska||Absent, unreliable record||Quast and Hall, 1972; Froese and Pauly, 2012||Quast & Hall (1972) reference is outside distributional range, occurrence needs verification|
|Belgium||Present||Native||Not invasive||Bervoets et al., 1990|
|Denmark||Present||Native||Not invasive||Frier, 1994|
|Estonia||Present||Native||Not invasive||Kangur and Kangur, 1998|
|Finland||Present||Native||Not invasive||Koli, 1990|
|France||Present||Native||Not invasive||Billard, 1997|
|Germany||Present||Native||Not invasive||Kottelat and Freyhof, 2007|
|Ireland||Present||Native||Not invasive||Quigley and Flannery, 1996|
|Latvia||Present||Native||Not invasive||Shpilev et al., 2005|
|Lithuania||Present||Native||Not invasive||Shpilev et al., 2005|
|Netherlands||Present||Native||Not invasive||Nijssen and Groot, 1974|
|Norway||Present||Native||Not invasive||Kottelat and Freyhof, 2007|
|Russian Federation||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Central Russia||Present||Native||Not invasive||Strelnikova and Ivanova, 1982|
|-Northern Russia||Present||Native||Not invasive||Nilssen et al., 1995; Kottelat and Freyhof, 2007|
|-Western Siberia||Localised||Introduced||Korlyakov and Mukhachev, 2009||Bolshoi Kisegach Lake, South Urals|
|Sweden||Present||Native||Not invasive||Kullander, 1999|
|UK||Localised||Native||Not invasive||Maitland, 2003|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
There have been relatively few attempts to deliberately introduce of O. eperlanus to new sites, or to re-establish them in waterbodies where they have been recorded previously. Most of these have failed, although the reasons for failure are rarely cited (Maitland, 2003). In the 1930s and 1960s, O. eperlanus was introduced to 47 lakes in Karelia, the Kola Peninsula and the South Urals. It became established in very few of these waters, for example, in the South Urals it formed a permanent population in only one of eight lakes into which it was introduced (Korlyakov and Mukhachev, 2009). In England, the only landlocked population in Rostherne Mere, became extinct in 1921 (Davies et al., 2003), although it has been suggested that this population may have been originally introduced (Ellison and Chubb, 1968). Recent attempts in Scotland (Maitland et al., 2008) to reintroduce this species from the River Cree to the River Fleet (where it occurred formerly) have not so far been successful.
IntroductionsTop of page
|Introduced to||Introduced from||Year||Reason||Introduced by||Established in wild through||References||Notes|
|Natural reproduction||Continuous restocking|
|Russian Federation||Russian Federation||1930s||Yes||Korlyakov and Kolenova (2005)||But failed to establish in many other lakes|
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
Although O. eperlanus has been introduced and become established in new waters in the past, most such introductions have failed and there is little evidence that the species is likely to be invasive. As a coastal/estuarine species, O. eperlanus has the opportunity to either invade new catchments or recolonize waters from which it has previously been eliminated.
HabitatTop of page
O. eperlanus occurs in coastal waters and estuaries and migrates into large clean rivers at spawning time. The species is tolerant of wide salinity changes and several non-migratory purely freshwater populations exist in large freshwater lakes in Finland, Sweden and Norway (Maitland, 2000). The sole freshwater population in the British Isles, in Rostherne Mere in Cheshire, became extinct many decades ago in the 1920s, probably as a result of eutrophication (Ellison and Chubb, 1968; Davies et al., 2003).
This fish favours unpolluted estuaries except during spawning time when the migrate en masse into freshwater habitats to spawn. The upstream spawning migration can be quite short, and usually extends only as far as the upper limit of tidal influence. The presence of in-stream, usually man-made, structures can also have a negative impact on reproductive success, by limiting access to spawning sites. Many estuaries which formerly had large populations lost them as pollution increased and water quality declined, meaning that the species is much less common than it was in the past (Maitland, 2003, 2004). However, its return to waters such as the rivers Thames and Trent (Davies et al., 2003), as they become cleaner is a welcome sign and one which it is hoped will be repeated on other recovering rivers.
Habitat ListTop of page
|Estuaries||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Lakes||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Reservoirs||Present, no further details||Productive/non-natural|
|Rivers / streams||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Inshore marine||Present, no further details||Natural|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
On reaching maturity, adults migrate up the estuaries and into the lower reaches of rivers in March and April. Usually the run in each river occupies only a few days, but during that time the spawning activity becomes furious and the sticky eggs attach themselves to everything on the river bed - gravel, stones, weed and sticks (Hutchinson and Mills, 1987). If the river level drops subsequently many eggs may be left exposed, dessicate and die. The adults are very vulnerable to all kinds of predators (including humans) at this time and occasionally become so preoccupied during the actual spawning event that they swim right out of the water and strand themselves on dry land (Maitland, 2004).
Each female lays about 10,000-40,000 pale yellow eggs (0.9 mm in diameter) and these hatch in about 20-35 days according to the local temperature. The eggs are often laid in quite fast flowing water and the young are swept quickly down into the upper estuary where they start to feed. Though there is considerable mortality among the adults during spawning, many do manage to return to the sea where they recover to grow further and spawn again in subsequent years (Shpilev et al., 2005). Lake populations of this species usually spawn in or near the mouths of rivers entering the lake or along suitable shores (Maitland and Campbell, 1992).
Physiology and Phenology
As an anadromous species, O. eperlanus has a wide tolerance of salinity ranges.
Growth is a very variable process in this species according to local conditions (Garnas, 1982; Shpilev et al., 2005). In suitable estuaries the young may reach 10 cm by the end of the first year and some 15 cm by the third year which is usually when they start to breed. They may live for several years beyond this, reaching lengths of about 20 cm at 6 or 7 years of age (Maitland, 2004). The males are usually smaller than the females and average weights are about 28 and 36 g respectively.
Most of the life of O. eperlanus is spent in coastal waters and estuaries but at spawning time (usually around March-April) the adult fish undertake spawning migrations to reproduce in fresh water, usually in the mouths of local rivers at the head of tide (Lyle and Maitland, 1997).
Population Size and Density
There can be large variations in the year class abundance of O. eperlanus, depending largely on mortality rates during incubation and early development (Shpilev et al., 2005). Obtaining accurate population estimates are difficult for this species, particlarly given that they often move into spawning sites and leave quickly once that is completed. There are few data on actual population size but Lyle and Maitland (1997) estimated the adult population in the River Cree in the 1960s to be at least 60,000. Later studies, such as Ribbens and Graham (2004), estimated the same population to comprise >25,000 fish.
O. eperlanus fry are very small at first and feed on minute zooplankton, probably protozoans and rotifers (Naesje et al., 1987). As they grow they take larger planktonic crustaceans and some bottom animals; eventually they become quite voracious predators taking larger crustaceans (shrimps (Caridea) and mysids (Mysidae)) and young fish such as sprat (Sprattus sprattus), herring (Clupea harengus), whiting (Merlangius merlangus) and gobies (Gobiidae; Hutchinson, 1983). Nilsson (1979) reports the following diet from the offshore region of Lake Vanern, Sweden: Cladocera 27.3%, copepods 34.5%, mysids 3.6%, insects 3.6% and fish 0.9%). See also Maitland and Campbell (1992).
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Natural enemiesTop of page
|Natural enemy||Type||Life stages||Specificity||References||Biological control in||Biological control on|
|Anguilla anguilla||Predator||not specific||Froese and Pauly, 2012|
|Ardea cinerea||Predator||not specific|
|Esox lucius||Predator||not specific||Froese and Pauly, 2012|
|Gymnocephalus cernuus||Predator||not specific||Froese and Pauly, 2012|
|Lota lota||Predator||not specific||Froese and Pauly, 2012|
|Lutra lutra||Predator||not specific|
|Mergus merganser||Predator||not specific|
|Mergus serrator||Predator||not specific|
|Mustela lutreola||Predator||not specific|
|Neovison vison||Predator||not specific|
|Pelecus cultratus||Predator||not specific||Froese and Pauly, 2012|
|Perca fluviatilis||Predator||not specific||Froese and Pauly, 2012|
|Phoca groenlandica||Predator||not specific||Froese and Pauly, 2012|
|Salmo trutta||Predator||not specific||Froese and Pauly, 2012|
|Sander lucioperca||Predator||not specific||Froese and Pauly, 2012|
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
O. eperlanus has a wide range of predators, especially when adults run into shallow rivers to spawn. They are an important element in the diet of many piscivorous fish (Vijverberg et al., 1990; Vehanen et al., 1998). At that time they are vulnerable to otters (Lutra lutra) and mink (Neovison vison/Mustela lutreola) and a wide range of piscivorous birds, including herons (Ardea cinerea), mergansers (Mergus serrator), goosanders (Mergus merganser), and gulls (Laridae).
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)
O. eperlanus is a coastal/estuarine species that is capable of spreading to new water bodies naturally.
There are relatively few records of intentional introductions of O. eperlanus for conservation or fishery development purposes. Where these have occurred, success has been limited and most have failed.
Pathway CausesTop of page
|Fisheries||Introduced to many lakes but established in only a few.||Yes|
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Rainbow smelt O. mordax, introduced to the North American Great Lakes, has caused significant ecosystem shifts since its arrival there in the early part of the twentieth century (e.g. Rooney and Paterson, 2009). By contrast, introduced O. eperlanus has not shown the same negatively impacted native fish communities (Korlyakov and Mukhachev, 2009). However, one of the few waters where the introduction of O. eperlanus has caused problems is Syamozero Lake in Karelia, northwest Russia (Ieshko et al., 2000). Here, the accidental introduction led to the development of a large population and this caused serious changes in fish community structure and trophic relationships in this lake.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Has a broad native range
- Abundant in its native range
- Is a habitat generalist
- Highly mobile locally
- Fast growing
- Has high reproductive potential
UsesTop of page
Several commercial fisheries for O. eperlanus still exist within the UK and these rely mainly on their vulnerability during the short spawning run to catch them (sometimes in enormous numbers) in traps and nets (Maitland, 2003). Only three populations are known to remain in Scotland, yet all have been the subject of fisheries until recently. On the River Cree in some years up to six tonnes were taken from the spawning run - probably a high percentage of the population there and undoubtedly a threat to its existence. In some parts of Europe O. eperlanus is caught in the estuaries in drift nets and trawls (Groot, 1989) and sold either fresh or smoked (Shpilev et al., 2005). In some countries, much of the catch is sold as bait for pike (Esox lucius).
Uses ListTop of page
Animal feed, fodder, forage
Human food and beverage
- Meat/fat/offal/blood/bone (whole, cut, fresh, frozen, canned, cured, processed or smoked)
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
The European smelt O. eperlanus is an eastern Atlantic species not dissimilar in appearance of life history to the rainbow smelt O. mordax of the western Atlantic which occupies a similar niche in North American coastal waters and estuaries (Scott and Crossman, 1985). However, the latter species is known to be extremely invasive and has caused problems in some waters to which it has been introduced. For example in inland lakes surrounding the Laurentian Great Lakes, following its earlier introduction and spread from the Great Lakes (Frie and Spangler, 1985; Roth et al., 2010), it has led to declines in several native fish species. The ecosystem effects of O. mordax have been reviewed by Rooney and Paterson (2009). The taxonomic status of Osmerus schonfoldi is not clear, this species or subspecies differs from O. eperlanus eperlanusin having 27-32 gill rakers compared with 33-38 gill rakers in the latter.
Prevention and ControlTop of page
There are no reports of this species being controlled.
ReferencesTop of page
Belyanina TS, 1958. Synopsis of biological data on smelt Osmerus eperlanus (Linnaeus 1758). Food and Agriculture Organisation Fishery Synopsis, 78. Rome, Italy: FAO, 1-55.
Bervoets I; Coeck J; Verheyen RF, 1990. The value of lowland rivers for the conservation of rare fish in Flanders. Journal of Fish Biology, 37(Supplement sA):223-224.
Billard R, 1997. Les poissons d'eau douce des rivières de France (The freshwater fish of the rivers of France). Lausanne, Switzerland: Delachaux & Niestlé, 192 pp.
Davies CE; Shelley J; Harding PT; Mclean IFG; Gardiner R; Peirson G, 2004. Freshwater fishes in Britain. The species and their distribution. Colchester, UK: Harley Books.
Ellison NF; Chubb JC, 1968. The smelt of Rostherne Mere, Cheshire. Lancashire and Cheshire Fauna Society, 53:7-16.
Frie RV; Spangler GR, 1985. Dynamics of Rainbow Smelt during and after exploitation in South Bay, Lake Huron. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 114:713-724.
Frier JO, 1994. Truede ferskvandsfiskearter i Norden (Endangered freshwater fishes in the Nordic countries). Copenhagen, Denmark: Nordisk Ministerrad, 99 pp.
Froese R; Pauly D, 2012. FishBase. FishBase. http://www.fishbase.org
Garnas E, 1982. Growth of different year classes of smelt Osmerus eperlanus L. in Lake Tyrifjorden, Norway. Fauna Norvegica, 3:1-6.
Groot SJde, 1989. Decline of the catches of coregonids and migratory smelt in the lower Rhine, the Netherlands. ICES Anadromous and Catadromous Fish Committee Publication, 18. 1-11.
Hutchinson P, 1983. The ecology of Smelt, Osmerus eperlanus (L.), from the River Thames and the River Cree. PhD Thesis. Edinburgh, UK: University of Edinburgh.
Hutchinson P; Mills DH, 1987. Characteristics of spawning-run smelt, Osmerus eperlanus (L.), from a Scottish river, with recommendations for their conservation and management. Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, 18:249-258.
Kangur A; Kangur P, 1998. Diet composition and size-related changes in the feeding of pikeperch, Stizostedion lucioperca (Percidae) and pike, Esox lucius (Esocidae) in the Lake Peipsi (Estonia). In: Italian Journal of Zoology, 65(Supplement) [ed. by Bianco, P. G.]. 255-259.
Koli L, 1990. Suomen Kalaopas ([English title not available]). Helsinki, Finland: Soderstrom.
Korlyakov KA; Dubchak KA, 2010. Production and parasitological characteristics of invasive short-cycle fish species in water bodies on the eastern slope of the Southern Urals. Russian Journal of Ecology, 41(4):347-351.
Korlyakov KA; Kolenova EM, 2005. Smelt from Lake Bol'shoi Kisegach. (Koryushka ozera Bol'shoi Kisegach.) In: Mat-ly Konf. Molodikh Uchenykh. Ekologiya: Ot Genov do Ekosistem. 25-29 Aprelya 2005. Ekaterinburg, Russia: Akademkniga, 129-130.
Lyle AA; Maitland PS, 1997. The spawning migration of the smelt Osmerus eperlanus in the River Cree, S.W. Scotland. Biological Conservation, 80:303-311.
Maitland PS, 2000. Guide to freshwater fish of Britain and Europe. London, UK: Hamlyn.
Maitland PS, 2003. The status of Smelt Osmerus eperlanus in England. Peterborough, UK: English Nature, 82 pp. [English Nature Research Report 516.]
Maitland PS, 2004. The status, ecology and conservation of the Smelt in the British Isles. British Wildlife, 15:330-338.
Maitland PS, 2007. Scotland's freshwater fish: ecology conservation and folklore. Victoria, Canada: Trafford.
Maitland PS; Lyle AA; Ribbens J; Graham J; Armstrong R, 2008. Translocation of Sparling: 2008. Newton Stewart, UK: Scottish Natural Heritage.
Naesje TF; Jonsson B; Klyve L; Sandlund OT, 1987. Food and growth of age-0 smelts, Osmerus eperlanus, in a Norwegian fjord lake. Journal of Fish Biology, 30:119-126.
Nellbring S, 1989. The ecology of smelts (Genus Osmerus): a literature review. Nordic Journal of Freshwater Research, 65:116-145.
Nilssen KT; Haug T; Potelov V; Stasenko VA; Timoshenko YK, 1995. Food habits of harp seals (Phoca groenlandica) during lactation and moult in March-May in the southern Barents Sea and White Sea. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 52:33-41.
Nilsson NA, 1979. Food and habitat of the fish community of the offshore region of Lake Vanern, Sweden. Report of the Institute of Freshwater Research, Drottningholm, Sweden, 58:126-139.
Northcote T; Hammar J, 2006. Feeding ecology of Coregonus albula and Osmerus eperlanus in the limnetic waters of Lake Malaren, Sweden. Boreal Environmental Research, 11:229-246.
Quast JC; Hall EL, 1972. List of fishes of Alaska and adjacent waters with a guide to some of their literature. USA: US Department of Commerce, 47 pp. [NOAA Technical Report NMFS SSRF-658.]
Quigley DTG; Flannery K, 1996. Endangered freshwater fish in Ireland. In: Conservation of endangered fish in Europe [ed. by Kirchofer, A. \Hefti, D.]. Basel, Switzerland: Birkhauser Verlag, 27-34.
Ribbens J; Graham J, 2004. Assessing the sparling Osmerus eperlanus (L.) population of the River Cree. Galloway Fisheries Trust Report to Scottish Natural Heritage, contract no. IB030457T. Galloway Fisheries Trust Report to Scottish Natural Heritage, UK: Scottish Natural Heritage, 31 pp.
Rooney RC; Paterson MJ, 2009. Ecosystem effects of Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax) invasions in inland lakes: a literature review. Canada: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, iv + 33 pp. [Canadian Technical Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 2845.]
Roth BM; Hrabik TR; Solomon CT; Mercado-Silva N; Kitchell JF, 2010. A simulation of food-web interactions leading to rainbow smelt Osmerus mordax dominance in Sparkling Lake, Wisconsin. Journal of Fish Biology, 77(6):1379-1405.
Scott WB; Crossman EJ, 1985. Freshwater fishes of Canada. Bulletin of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, 184:1-966.
Shpilev H; Ojaveer E; Lankov A, 2005. Smelt (Osmerus eperlanus L.) in the Baltic Sea. Proceedings of the Estonian Academy of Science, Biology and Ecology, 54:230-241.
Strelnikova AP; Ivanova MN, 1982. Feeding of smelt, Osmerus eperlanus (Osmeridae), in early ontogenesis in the Rybinsk Reservoir. Journal of Ichthyology, 22:48-54.
Vehanen T; Hyvärinen P; Huusko A, 1998. Food consumption and prey orientation of piscivorous brown trout (Salmo trutta) and pikeperch (Stizostedion lucioperca) in a large regulated lake. Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 14(1/2):15-22.
Vijverberg J; Boersma P; Densen WLTvan; Hoogenboezem W; Lammens EHRR; Mooij WM, 1990. Seasonal variation in the interactions between piscivorous fish, planktivorous fish and zooplankton in a shallow eutrophic lake. Hydrobiologia, 207:279-286.
ContributorsTop of page
13/03/12 Original text by:
Peter Maitland, Fish Conservation Centre, Gladshot, Haddington, EH41 4NR, UK.
Reviewers' names are available on request.
Distribution MapsTop of page
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