Smelt

Smelt

Jack smelt, © Amadeo Bachar

At a glance

Eco-rating Mercury Omega-3s
+-Capelin, smelt roe (Iceland)
Best
Unknown
High

MORE ABOUT CAPELIN, SMELT ROE

Capelin roe is a popular item in sushi restaurants, though the meat itself is rarely used. Some restaurants serve flavored varieties of masago, distinguished by their different colors.

The capelin is a schooling fish with a slender, elongated body and a pointed snout. Rarely longer than 7.9 inches (20 cm), it ranges in color from a transparent olive to bottle green along the back while the belly and fins remain silvery or silvery-white. It has very small, smooth, round scales. The roe, or masago, is bright orange.

Commercial Sources

Capelin occur throughout much of the northern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Most fisheries are concentrated in the northern Atlantic Ocean from the coast of Newfoundland to waters off Svalbard archipelago (between Norway and the North Pole).

The main sources of capelin are Iceland, Norway and Canada. Iceland is now the world's largest producer of capelin, though historically Russia also caught large amounts until the fishery in the Barents Sea closed in 2004.

Capture Methods

Capelin come from marine fisheries, not fish farms. They are primarily caught with purse seine and mid-water pelagic trawls.

+-Capelin, smelt roe (Canada)
OK
Unknown
High

MORE ABOUT CAPELIN, SMELT ROE

Capelin roe is a popular item in sushi restaurants, though the meat itself is rarely used. Some restaurants serve flavored varieties of masago, distinguished by their different colors.

The capelin is a schooling fish with a slender, elongated body and a pointed snout. Rarely longer than 7.9 inches (20 cm), it ranges in color from a transparent olive to bottle green along the back while the belly and fins remain silvery or silvery-white. It has very small, smooth, round scales. The roe, or masago, is bright orange.

Commercial Sources

Capelin occur throughout much of the northern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Most fisheries are concentrated in the northern Atlantic Ocean from the coast of Newfoundland to waters off Svalbard archipelago (between Norway and the North Pole).

The main sources of capelin are Iceland, Norway and Canada. Iceland is now the world's largest producer of capelin, though historically Russia also caught large amounts until the fishery in the Barents Sea closed in 2004.

Capture Methods

Capelin come from marine fisheries, not fish farms. They are primarily caught with purse seine and mid-water pelagic trawls.

+-Longfin smelt
Unrated
Low

MORE ABOUT LONGFIN SMELT

The longfin smelt is green with black speckling. It is an ocean species, but some populations are landlocked. It moves upstream to spawn in fresh or mixed waters. The fish grows to 8 inches (20 cm) and lives in schools.

Commercial Sources

Longfin smelt are found in the freshwater and marine environments of western North America, from Alaska to Monterey Bay in California. There is a landlocked population in Washington State.

Capture Methods

Longfin smelt come from coastal fisheries, not fish farms. They are primarily caught with gillnets and dip nets. Additional types of fishing gear include trawls.

+-Night smelt
Unrated
Low

MORE ABOUT NIGHT SMELT

The night smelt is a small (9 inches/23 cm) greenish fish with silvery sides. It is a commercial species and a gamefish.

Commercial Sources

Night smelt are found in the eastern North Pacific, from Alaska to central California.

Capture Methods

Night smelt come from marine fisheries, not fish farms. They are primarily caught with gillnets and dip nets. Additional types of fishing gear include hooks-and-lines.

+-Rainbow smelt
Unrated
Low

MORE ABOUT RAINBOW SMELT

The rainbow smelt has a pale green back, with purple, blue and pink iridescent sides when freshly caught. This small (14 inch, or 36 cm) fish may migrate up to 1,000 km upstream in rivers.

Commercial Sources

Rainbow smelt are found in the freshwater and marine environments of North America and East Asia. On the Atlantic coast, they range from Labrador to the Delaware River. On the Pacific coast, they occur off Russia.

The main sources of rainbow smelt are the Russian Federation and Canada.

Capture Methods

Rainbow smelt come from coastal fisheries, not fish farms. They are primarily caught with gillnets and dip nets. Additional types of fishing gear include seines and hooks-and-lines.

+-Surf smelt
Unrated
Low

MORE ABOUT SURF SMELT

The small (1 foot/30 cm) olive-green surf smelt sometimes swims up into rivers, although it lives in marine waters. As its name implies, the surf smelt lays its eggs on beaches with heavy surf action.

Commercial Sources

Surf smelt are found in the North Pacific Ocean. In the eastern Pacific, they range from Alaska to southern California. In the western Pacific, they occur off eastern Russia.

Capture Methods

Surf smelt come from marine fisheries, not fish farms. They are primarily caught with gillnets and seines.

+-Whitebait smelt
Unrated
Low

MORE ABOUT WHITEBAIT SMELT

The whitebait smelt is an important food for larger fishes. This small fish (22 cm or 0.7 feet) is also a gamefish.

Commercial Sources

Whitebait smelt are found in the eastern North Pacific, from Vancouver Island in Canada to San Francisco in California.

Capture Methods

Whitebait smelt come from marine fisheries, not fish farms. They are primarily caught with gillnets and nets. Additional types of fishing gear include dip nets and handlines.

Recommended servings per month

Contaminant Men Women Kids 6-12 Kids 0-5
Longfin smelt Mercury 4+ 4+ 4+ 4+
Night smelt Mercury 4+ 4+ 4+ 4+
Rainbow smelt Mercury 4+ 4+ 4+ 4+
Surf smelt Mercury 4+ 4+ 4+ 4+
Whitebait smelt Mercury 4+ 4+ 4+ 4+
Capelin, smelt roe (Iceland) Unknown 4 4 4 4
Capelin, smelt roe (Canada) Unknown 4 4 4 4
Eco details: 
  • Smelt are related to salmon and swim up freshwater rivers to spawn.
  • They mature quickly and are an important source of food for many marine predators.
  • Surprisingly little is known about their basic biology, so effective fisheries management is difficult.