Smelt — This is a small fish that can be freshwater and marine. Its abundance in habitats is very high. Smelt is constantly caught for commercial purposes, but despite this, its numbers remain stable. This small fish is very much loved by amateur fishermen, in the cold seas it is found in abundance.

All varieties of the smelt family are, in principle, similar. But the Far Eastern smelt, unlike the others, has a smaller mouth with a protruding lower jaw, and its dorsal fin is shorter than that of other members of this family. In the Far East and Sakhalin, ice smelt is very popular among winter fishing enthusiasts, it is also called «voroshenka». It is caught in the hole, and it freezes right there, in the cold. The smell of cucumbers is characteristic of freshly caught smelt, which is why smelt has another name — borage.

Smelt lives in large schools in the seas (in those places where the bottom is sandy) or lakes. When the spawning period comes, she migrates to the mouths of the rivers & # 8212; where there is no fast current.

Origin of species and description

Smelt description

Photo: Smelt

There is confusion regarding the classification of smelt. You can often find disputes about whether this small fish belongs to herring or salmon. It is safe to say that both are right. The confusion arises because the disputants have different classification groups in mind. As you know, when determining a particular species, they usually go from a larger taxon (a group in the classification) to a lower one: superorder – order – family – genus – species or subspecies. We will focus on two classifications.

In the atlas-determinant of fish N.A. Myagkova (M. «Prosveshchenie», 1994) proposed the following classification. The author of the atlas singles out the superorder Clupeoid, which includes the order Herringiformes and the order Salmonformes. The smelt family belongs to the salmon order. The following is a classification by species.

European smelt. She, like all smelts, has teeth on her jaws. The line on the side is only visible up to 4 — 16 scales. The barrels are silvery, the back is brown-green. The length of the smelt of this species is about 20 centimeters.

Smelt. Small freshwater fish with weaker teeth than the European. The length of her body is about 6 centimeters, sometimes a little more.

Toothed smelt. She has powerful teeth compared to other species. The line on the side is visible up to 14 — 30 scales. The length reaches 35 centimeters. This is an anadromous and lake fish.

Small mouthed river smelt. The fish of this species resembles a sprat in its appearance. A silver stripe is clearly visible along its entire body. Black dots can be seen on the scales and fins. Its size is about 10 centimeters.

Smelt small-mouthed sea smelt. This species, in contrast to the small-mouthed river, does not have a silvery stripe and black dots. If there are black dots, they are difficult to distinguish. Smallmouth smelt is slightly larger than river smelt – its length is about 12 centimeters.

Capelin. This is a sea fish, the fattest of all types of smelt. She has a silver barrel, against which the lateral line is clearly visible, which runs all over her body, up to the anal fin. The back of the capelin is blue-green. The average length of capelin is about 20 centimeters.

In the book «Fish of the USSR» authors V. Lebedeva, V. Spanovskaya, K. Savvitov, L. Sokolov and E. Tsepkin (M., & # 171; Thought & # 187;, 1969) there is also a detachment of herring-like ones, in which, in addition to the salmon family, there is also a family smelt.

Next comes the classification by genera and species:

  • genus of smelt. Species – European and Asian smelt «catfish»;
  • genus smallmouth smelt. Species – small-mouthed smelt, or borage;
  • genus of capelin. View – capelin, or uyok;
  • genus golden smelt. Appearance – golden smelt, or silverfish.

Appearance and features

Smelt features

Photo: Smelt fish

Smelt — This is a fish that lives in numerous flocks. Its appearance depends on what species it belongs to. The strength and sharpness of the teeth located on the jaws also depends on which species this small predator belongs to. The body length of smelt, depending on the species, ranges from 6 to 35 cm. The body shape is fusiform, elongated; mouth in relation to the length of the fish itself is large. All varieties of smelt look similar: the body has a silvery sheen, the back is darker compared to the barrels and abdomen and has a greenish-brown sheen, the fins are either grayish or almost transparent.

But the Far Eastern smelt (aka borage, or nagysh), unlike the others, has a proportionally small mouth. Her scales are also small and completely transparent. The belly of the Far Eastern smelt is not silvery, but white-yellow, and on the back of the scales are greenish-bluish. The European smelt (or smelt) has dense, relatively large scales for its size and a green-brown back. Her body configuration is narrower and more elongated than the others.

Smelt, which lives in lakes, has colorless fins, a light back, and this allows it to disguise itself in a lake with a muddy bottom. A characteristic difference between fish of the salmon order & # 8212; two dorsal fins, one of which is real, and the second, smaller, — fatty. This is a rounded fin that does not have true fin rays and is located in the caudal region. On this basis, salmon are easy to distinguish, for example, from herring. Representatives of the smelt family, which, as mentioned above, belong to the salmon order, have an adipose fin.

Where does smelt live?

Asian smelt is common in the seas: White, Baltic, North. There is a lot of it in the Far East, in particular, in Sakhalin, Chukotka, the Kuril Islands. Fish choose coastal waters as their place of residence. Asian smelt also lives in Siberian and Far Eastern rivers.

European smelt lives in the Baltic and North Seas. In addition to the seas, she also lives in lakes – for example, in Ladoga and Onega. Due to its good acclimatization, the fish has spread in the Volga River basin.

Freshwater smelt lives in many lakes in the European part of Russia, as well as in lakes in Western Europe. You can meet her in the north-west of Russia. The fish, as a rule, prefers sandy places, avoids strong currents.

The small-mouthed salmon lives near the sea coast of the Far East, but being an anadromous fish, it also enters rivers. There is a lot of it on Sakhalin, off the southern coast of the Kuril Islands, in Kamchatka, up to the coast of the northern part of Korea.

Using the good acclimatization of smelt, it was released into lakes in the north-west of Russia and into the Ural lakes. Sometimes this fish chooses new places of residence for itself. It appeared in some reservoirs – for example, Rybinsk, Gorky and Kuibyshev.

What does smelt eat?

What does smelt eat

Photo: Far Eastern smelt

Fish belonging to the smelt family actively feed, regardless of the time of year. But smelt is especially voracious in summer and autumn. Since these small fish have sharp teeth in their jaws, smelt is considered a predator. The mouth of the smelt is naturally small, but the teeth are numerous.

Small predators often prefer depth, not only to hide from other predators, but also to find food for themselves: to catch fry, smaller than the smelt itself, a fish. Smelt also feeds on eggs laid by other fish, planktonic algae, dipteran insects and their larvae, crustaceans. By the way, the voracity of this fish contributes to the fact that smelt fishermen, as a rule, do not remain without a good catch. Depending on their size and the structure of the oral cavity, different types of smelt have their own food preferences.

A small smelt, due to its size, different from larger individuals, has, accordingly, a small mouth. The teeth on the jaws of this fish are small and weak. Therefore, the small-mouthed smelt catches fry, eats crustaceans, larvae, caviar. And due to the fact that the small mouth is directed upwards, it also feeds on flying dipterous insects.

Since European and Asian smelt are the largest of the smelt family, they have a large mouth and strong teeth. These fish have their own nutritional habits. They feed on benthic crustaceans, plankton, chironomid larvae (representatives of the Diptera order), and small fish. It happens that in the stomach of a smelt its brethren are found — smaller smelt. This is because «tribesmen» eat each other in those reservoirs where there is no other food.

Smelt Lifestyle Features

Smelt lifestyle

Photo: Smelt

Smelt is a fish that lives in large flocks. This helps her not only to migrate during spawning, but also to escape from enemies. This fish is intolerant of water pollution and, accordingly, prefers clean water bodies for its living. Therefore, in many heavily polluted rivers, the number of smelt, which was also once a commercial fish there, has significantly decreased. Representatives of the smelt family love depth, therefore they prefer deep places of lakes, rivers or seas. In addition, by varying the depth, the fish tries to hide from other predators.

Unlike the vast majority of fish, the spawning season for smelt is spring. Speaking of spawning, it is worth noting that, according to their place of residence and the presence or absence of migration, fish are migratory and residential. Anadromous live in the seas, but rise to the rivers in order to spawn. That is, these are fish that make spawning migrations from the seas to the rivers. Residential — these are those fish whose life cycle is not connected with the sea, they constantly live in rivers or lakes.

Smelt breeding

Smelt breeding

Photo: Smelt fish

Smelt reproduces by caviar. That is, in its life cycle there is a period of spawning. Since the life expectancy of fish of this family is different, puberty also occurs at different ages. For example, if a smelt lives up to 3 years, then it becomes capable of reproduction at 1-2 years. Asian smelt and Siberian individuals, which have a lifespan of 10 or 12 years, become adults at the age of 5-7 years. For example, anadromous smallmouth smelt mature at 2 or 3 years of age and then migrate to rivers in spring to spawn. Such a smelt spawns no more than 3 times in its entire life.

Often, fish travel huge distances for their size on their way to streams and rivers to lay their eggs. This path is sometimes tens of kilometers. The spawning process itself lasts for several days. Fish choose a place to lay their eggs in such a place that there is a lot of food for future fry, as well as few predators. During spawning, the appearance of the fish also changes slightly — males have bumps on the scales, females too, but they only have them on their heads.

Smelt spawning starts at different times depending on the region. It depends on the temperature of the water. It usually occurs shortly after the ice breaks. The water temperature should be favorable at this time — not lower than +4 degrees. But the peak of spawning occurs at a time when the water temperature becomes slightly higher (6 – 9 degrees). Fish spawn in spring, usually in late April or early May. For laying eggs, smelt chooses shallow places with running water.

Smelt throw their eggs right to the bottom. It should be sandy, rocky or sandy-muddy. The female lays about four thousand eggs. The eggs have a sticky shell. Due to this, they stick to stones and underwater plants or to some objects at the bottom. In addition to the outer sticky shell, the eggs also have an inner one, similar to that of all fish. When the egg swells, the outer shell bursts, frees the inner one and turns inside out. But it remains connected at one point with the inner shell. It looks like a kind of stem, on which the egg with the embryo swings freely in the water.

Dead eggs gradually break off, they are carried away by the current, and the outer shell acts as a parachute and facilitates their movement in the water. Thanks to this, the spawning grounds of smelt are freed from already unnecessary caviar, and future young growth develops in more favorable conditions. At the moment of rupture of the shell, the fertilized egg breaks off from the bottom. The floating eggs continue their development, and after 11 — 16 days after they have been swept out by females, thin larvae appear from them. Their length is approximately 12 millimeters. Soon these larvae, continuing their way downstream, begin to catch food: plankton, small crustaceans.

Natural enemies of smelt

Enemies of smelt

Photo: What smelt looks like

This fish lies in wait throughout its life many dangers. It feeds on fish that are much larger than it.

And there are more than enough of them in the expanses of water:

  • salmon;
  • pike;
  • cod;
  • burbot;
  • zander;
  • trout;
  • char;
  • perch;
  • herring.

the smelt has, although not very reliable, a way of defense available to it from predators larger than itself. Adult smelt usually form flocks. A densely populated flock behaves harmoniously and cohesively. When danger arises, the fish in the flock closely approach each other and form, as it were, a single whole. All individuals in the flock begin to swim synchronously, while they simultaneously change the direction of movement.

Smelt roe and its larvae are also food for many fish. Especially when you consider that the fish of this family spawn in the still hungry early spring. And since there is still little food for the fish that are hungry during the winter in the spring, they eat smelt larvae and fry in large quantities. Not only underwater inhabitants, but also birds are also natural enemies of smelt. During the spawning season, smelt often rises to the surface, and birds snatch it right out of the water.

Population and species status

Smelt population

Photo: Far Eastern smelt

As for populations of different smelt species, then the following can be noted:

  • European anadromous smelt lives in the lakes of the Baltic Sea basin, in the upper reaches of the Volga;
  • toothed smelt, or catfish lives in the basins of the Arctic and Pacific oceans;
  • The small-mouthed river smelt lives in fairly fresh areas of the seas of the Arctic and Pacific oceans;
  • The small-mouthed smelt lives in the Pacific Ocean — from Kamchatka to Korea.

The capelin lives in the northern parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In Russia, for commercial purposes, it is mined in large volumes in the Barents Sea west of Novaya Zemlya. Capelin is also found off the coast of the Kola Peninsula. Smelt is not a protected fish species. Due to the high fecundity, the species of smelt remains stable.

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