Of the nine smelt species that inhabit North American waters, the most common is the ubiquitous rainbow smelt, found in the western Atlantic and Pacific oceans and in the Arctic Sea. It is mainly an inshore, anadromous fish that spends most of its life in saltwater but migrates to freshwater lakes and streams in the spring to spawn. However, smelt is a highly adaptable species, and landlocked populations have established themselves from Maine to the Great Lakes and southeastern Canada. Primary commercial fisheries for smelts are in the Great Lakes, off the coast of Canada around New Brunswick and on the Maine coast. Though catches are greatest in the spring, smelts are also targeted by ice fishermen. The silvery little fish reportedly take their name from the Anglo-Saxon word “smoelt,” meaning shiny. They are relished for their wonderful, fresh odor, reminiscent of freshly mowed grass or sliced cucumber, which has earned them the nickname “cucumberfish”.
Images and data provided by SeafoodSource. To view the entire Seafood Handbook, visit SeafoodSource.com.