Osmerus eperlanus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Common Name: Smelt

Synonyms and Other Names:

European Smelt, Cucumber Smelt, Salmo eperlanus (Linnaeus, 1758)




Author: Andrew Marriott Copyright Info

Identification: Osmerus eperlanus, the European smelt, has a long and slim body with a pointed head. Its snout is pointed and the upper jaw reaches to the hind margin of eye. The lower jaw projects a little; the teeth in its lower jaw are larger than those of the upper. It has strong teeth on its tongue and canines on its vomer. Gillrakers number 27-38 and the dorsal fin origin is behind the base of the pelvic fins. O. eperlanus has relatively large scales numbering 58-67, with 4-14 pored scales (not reaching to level of the dorsal fin). Vertebrae numbers 54-62. The color of O. eperlanus can be described as “back light olive green, flanks with silver stripe, belly creamy white” (Linnaeus 1758 via Marine Species Identification Portal 2017).


Size: Maximum length: 45 cm, maximum weight: 178 g (Koli 1990 and McAllister 1984 in Luna and Kesner-Reyes 2017)


Native Range: The native range of Osmerus eperlanus includes coastal waters and estuaries from southern Norway, around the western coast of Europe (including the Baltic Sea), to north-western Spain (Jakob et al. 2010).


This species is not currently in the Great Lakes region but may be elsewhere in the US. See the point map for details.

Ecology: Osmerus eperlanus can reach very high densities (Northcote and Hammar 2006).  Jurvelius et al. (2005) did a study of O. eperlanus in 5 Finnish lakes: in four lakes the proportion of Smelt was more than 60%.

This species lives in large lakes in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Poland and Russia (Nellbring 1989). This species lives in pristine, oligotrophic habitats (Scandinavian inland lakes) as well as heavily-polluted habitats (lower Elbe River), though may have health issues (e.g., granulomas and physical deformities) in more polluted areas (Anders and Möller 1987, Pohl 1990). They do particularly well in pelagic areas of oligotrophic lakes (Jurvelius et al. 2005) and are a coldwater species that does not tolerate surface water temperatures over 20°C for long periods (~80 days) (Kangur et al. 2007). However, these fish are able to migrate to deeper, cooler waters during the summer (Power and Attrill 2007). Osmerus eperlanus does poorly in eutrophic waters, in part because associated siltation may lead to inconsistent recruitment of fish through spawning grounds (Winfield et al. 1996, Kangur et al. 2007). Osmerus eperlanus can be sensitive to cyanobacteria blooms (Kangur et al. 2007) and do not tolerate low oxygen (<2 mg O2/l) in warm water temperatures (Kangur et al. 2007), low growth at <4.5 mg O2/l (Sepulveda 1994). However, they can inhabit turbid river stretches (Lyle and Maitland 1997), and this species been the dominant catch (91.8-100%) in eutrophic and turbid lakes in Finland (Reckel et al. 2003, Peltonen et al. 2006).

Osmerus eperlanus are tolerant of a wide salinity range; several purely freshwater populations occur (Jakob et al. 2010).

Osmerus eperlanus are opportunistic feeders, consuming copepods and cladocerans (Northcote and Hammar 2006). With increasing size and age, its food changes to larger crustaceans and in some cases to fish (Nilsson 1979, Svärdson et al. 1988).  According to Sterligova (1979) Smelt also eats Vendace Whitefish larvae and fry (Jurvelius et al. 2005). Young O. eperlanus are efficient planktivorous fish that affect the size structure of the zooplankton community easily by size selective predation (van Densen 1985).

O. eperlanus exhibits relatively high rates of hermaphroditism: 2.6% of fish from the Elbe were hermaphroditic, and capable of self-fertilization, with other reports at 3.7% (Hutchinson 1983).


Means of Introduction: Osmerus eperlanus has a moderate probability of introduction to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: High).

Potential pathway(s) of introduction: Transoceanic shipping

Osmerus eperlanus lives and spawns in the Elbe River (Thiel and Potter 2001), which is an extremely busy shipping route.  In the Netherlands, Osmerus eperlanus larvae survive transport in water pumped from Lake llsselImeer to the Frisian lake district to maintain a constant water level for agricultural purposes (Lammens et al. 1985). There was found to be 80% survival of O. eperlanus after intake of a cooler water inflow to a power plant through a screen system (Rohlwing et al. 1998). Thus this species is considered likely to survive transport in a ballast tank.


Status: Osmerus eperlanus has been introduced into several Scandinavian lakes, but not elsewhere. This species has not been reported to spread from the landlocked lakes into which it has been introduced.

Osmerus eperlanus has a moderate probability of establishment if introduced to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: High).

Osmerus eperlanus lives in large lakes in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Poland and Russia (Nellbring 1989) with conditions similar to the more oligotrophic of the Great Lakes. Scandinavian lakes would have similar temperature regimes as the Great Lakes. Congeneric species (Osmerus mordax) have already been introduced into the Great Lakes and spread throughout the region (Nellbring 1989). This indicates (though does not guarantee), the suitability of the Great Lakes for this species' survival and spread. Osmerus eperlanus are tolerant of a wide salinity range; several purely freshwater populations occur (Jakob et al. 2010). Osmerus eperlanus are opportunistic feeders, likely to readily find sufficient food in the Great Lakes. This species has a relatively high rate of hermaphroditism and can be self-fertile.


Great Lakes Impacts: Osmerus eperlanus has the potential for high environmental impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.

In the Great Lakes, congeneric Rainbow Smelt, Osmerus mordax, compete with Lake Herring, Coregonus artedii, for food (Becker 1983). Christie (1974) supplied some evidence to support this, correlating Lake Herring decline with Smelt increases in most of the lakes. Todd (1986) also reported that Smelt may be partially responsible for the decline of Whitefish Coregonus spp. in the Great Lakes. Hrabik et al. (1998) found evidence of competition for food between introduced Rainbow Smelt and native Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens) in Wisconsin lake habitats (Fuller 2013).

Osmerus eperlanus was accidentally introduced (in or before 1968) into the ecosystem of the Syamozero lake in Karelia (north-western Russia). The population of this species has reached a high density and caused serious changes in the structure and trophic relationships of the fish community of the Syamozero ecosystem (Ieshko et al. 2000). Unfortunately, this article is in Russian and has not been translated apart from the abstract.

The resource partitioning of the bream (Abramis brama) and eel (Anguilla anguilla) populations in Lake Tjeukemeer, The Netherlands, was related to the variation in abundance of their most important food organisms, Daphnia hyalina and larval chironomids. Niche shifts of both bream and eel populations were related to the abundance of young planktivorous fish, particularly Smelt (Osmerus eperlanus). When these fish were abundant the D. hyalina population was dominated by small individuals and bream switched from a planktivorous to a benthivorous diet, the condition of mature bream deteriorated, and its gonads developed poorly. Under these circumstances the eel population switched from a diet of chironomid pupae and molluscs to one of predominantly fish. The condition of eels smaller than 35 cm decreased and the chironomid population decreased in numbers and biomass (Lammens et al. 1985). Thus O. eperlanus has the potential to disrupt resource partitioning among native species and its introduction may have consequences for native populations of American eel (Anguilla rostrata).

Osmerus eperlanus is a paratenic host for the parasitic nematode, Anguillicola crassus (causing swimbladder lesions); in Europe, Osmerus eperlanus transmits the parasite when preyed upon by eels (Haenen et al. 1994).

Current research on the potential for socio-economic impacts to result from Osmerus eperlanus if introduced to the Great Lakes is inadequate to support proper assessment.

Osmerus eperlanus is the most important fish intermediate/transport host of the sealworm Pseudoterranova decipiens in the Elbe estuary and probably also in adjacent coastal waters of the Wadden Sea (Rohlwing et al. 1998, Karl 2006). Sealworms are potentially capable of causing anisakiasis-like symptoms in humans (e.g. abdominal pain, nausea, fever) when consumed in lightly cooked or raw fish products (pseudoterranovosisi e.g. Rae 1963, Margolis 1977, Yu et al. 2001, McClelland 2002, Audicana and Kennedy 2008). However, this parasite requires seals to complete its life cycle (Kuhn et al. 2013).

Osmerus eperlanus has the potential for moderate beneficial impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.

The commercial value of Smelt is low in Finnish lakes (Jurvelius et al. 2005). Smelt is an important food item for predatory fish species like pike-perch, brown trout and landlocked salmon (Peltonen et al. 1996, Heikinheimo et al. 2002, Keskinen and Marjomaki 2004, Jurvelius et al. 2005). Evidence from congeneric species: Havey (1973) reported increased growth of landlocked Atlantic Salmon following the introduction of Smelt as a forage species in a lake in Maine (Fuller 2013).


Management: Regulations

There are no known regulations for this species.

Note: Check federal, state, and local regulations for the most up-to-date information.

Control

Biological

European smelt would likely become a suitable prey option for many of the piscivorous fish in the Great Lakes that feed on Rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax). These predators include: Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytcha), Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Brown trout (Salmo trutta), Splake (Salvelinus namaycush x fontinalis), Burbot (Lota lota), Walleye (Sander vitreus), Northern pike (Esox lucius), and many other freshwater piscivores (Brandt and Madon 1986; Crossman 1991; GLMRIS 2012; He and LaBar 1994; Kirn and LaBar 1996; Stewart et al. 1981). However, the effectiveness of stocking piscivorous fish to control invasive species has been highly variable and is not as successful as chemical and physical control methods (Meronek et al. 1996). Additionally, piscivorous birds in Europe have shown to feed heavily on O. eperlanus indicating that birds native to the Basin such as Ibis, Great blue heron, and grebes would also consume O. eperlanus (Piersma et al. 1988).

Several studies have noted the susceptibility of O. eperlanus to microbial agents such as the Comet herpes virus of Smelt, microsporidian parasites (e.g. Glugea spp. or Pleistophora ladogensis) and sealworm (Pseudoterranova decipiens) (Jakob et al. 2010; Sprengel and Luchtenberg 1991; Schrader 1921). Sprengel and Luchtenberg (1991) observed that Smelt infected with the muscular parasites, P. ladogensis (Microsporal) and P. decipiens (Nematoda), exhibited a significant reduction in swimming speed. This implies that the infected smelt are subject to higher predation rates due to their diminished ability to escape. However, the use of pathogens or parasites to control O. eperlanus is not practical due the potential impact these could have on native species and humans.

Physical

Various types of physical controls that have been used to control rainbow smelt and other non-indigenous fish might also be effective in managing O. eperlanus. Patrick et al. (1985) observed that air bubble curtains have been successful in deterring rainbow smelt, alewife, and gizzard shad—especially when used in conjunction with strobe lights. Other types of physical treatments have been employed in fish control include reservoir drawdowns, traps, nets, electrofishing, and combinations of these treatments. Through their review of fish control methods, Meronek et al. (1996) observed that projects that utilized nets were the most successful of the previously listed physical treatments.

Chemical

Of the four chemical piscicides registered for use in the United States, rotenone and antimycin have been used in the majority of chemical control projects and have had varied success rates for different species and different bodies of water (Boogard et al. 1996; GLMRIS 2012; Maronek et al. 1996; Marking et al. 1983). Marking et al. (1983) found that the three most effective registered chemicals for potential use in control of rainbow smelt eggs and larvae are rotenone, potassium permanganate, and chlorine, respectively. The relatedness of rainbow smelt and O. eperlanus might indicate that these treatments will have a similar effect on O. eperlanus, especially since chemical piscicides typically are not species-specific. However, sensitivity to treatments varies among species so this assumption is not necessarily true (Boogard et al. 1996). Therefore, it is imperative to understand the physiology and ecology of O. eperlanus, as well as the characteristics of the specific environment such as water quality and water volume, which might affect the success of piscicides in the control of O. eperlanus (Lennox et al. 2015; Ling 2003; Marking et al. 1983).

Other

The temperature and dissolved oxygen requirements for O. eperlanus can provide insight on how an introduced population might be controlled. O. eperlanus is generally a coldwater species and mortality rate seems to be positively associated with increases in water temperature (Kangur et al. 2007; Kangur et al. 2005; Keskinen et al. 2012). This was seen in Lake Peipsi (Estonia/Russia) where high temperatures negatively affected the catch rate of Smelt 1 and 2 years later and long periods of high water temperatures (>20 C) led to extensive fish kills (Kangur et al. 2005; Kangur et al. 2007). Keskinen et al. (2012) demonstrated how long-term warming trends threaten the survival of O. eperlanus. They observed that the pelagic habitat of O. eperlanus was restricted due to increases in water temperature and decreases in dissolved oxygen. Therefore, climate change may control or limit the establishment of O. eperlanus in the Great Lakes due to their species-specific requirements for temperature and dissolved oxygen.


Note: Check state and local regulations for the most up-to-date information regarding permits for pesticide/herbicide/piscicide/insecticide use.


References:

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Revision Date: 3/15/2017


Citation for this information:
Fusaro, A., A. Davidson, K. Alame, M. Gappy, W. Conard, and P. Alsip, 2022, Osmerus eperlanus (Linnaeus, 1758): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/greatLakes/FactSheet.aspx?Species_ID=3649&Potential=Y&Type=2&HUCNumber=, Revision Date: 3/15/2017, Access Date: 5/17/2022

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.