or European smelt
) is a species of fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...
in the Osmeridae family.
Shape and appearance
The body of the European smelt is typically 15 to 18 cm long, slender and slightly flattened on either side. Larger fish may reach 30 cm in length. Smelts have a slightly translucent body. The back and sides are grey-green to pink in colour, the flanks bright silver. The tailfin has a dark border. The smelt lives for up to six years. One characteristic is its intense smell, reminiscent of fresh cucumbers.
Habitat and life
The smelt is a sea fish that lives in the coastal waters of Europe from the Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...
to the Bay of Biscay
The Bay of Biscay is a gulf of the northeast Atlantic Ocean located south of the Celtic Sea. It lies along the western coast of France from Brest south to the Spanish border, and the northern coast of Spain west to Cape Ortegal, and is named in English after the province of Biscay, in the Spanish...
. A freshwater
Fresh water is naturally occurring water on the Earth's surface in ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers, bogs, ponds, lakes, rivers and streams, and underground as groundwater in aquifers and underground streams. Fresh water is generally characterized by having low concentrations of dissolved salts and...
form, known in Germany as the Binnenstint
("Inland smelt"), is common in the larger lakes of Northern Europe
Northern Europe is the northern part or region of Europe. Northern Europe typically refers to the seven countries in the northern part of the European subcontinent which includes Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland and Sweden...
The smelt gather and swim about in the underflows of large streams in order to spawn above areas of sand. This takes place from the end of February to March, if the water temperature is above 9 degrees Celsius. The egg count per female can be as much as 40,000. After spawning there are often mass deaths. The smelt feeds mainly on small plankton
Plankton are any drifting organisms that inhabit the pelagic zone of oceans, seas, or bodies of fresh water. That is, plankton are defined by their ecological niche rather than phylogenetic or taxonomic classification...
crabs, ground animals and even its own young.
During spawning the smelt can easily be caught with nets. Outside the spawning season in the autumn, smelts are found in the harbours on the Baltic Sea coast, where they can be caught with so-called Heringspaternoster
In earlier times smelt could be caught in great quantities in rivers, and washing baskets were used instead of nets. In Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...
the district name of Stintfang
("smelt catch") indicates this, and in Lüneburg
Lüneburg is a town in the German state of Lower Saxony. It is located about southeast of fellow Hanseatic city Hamburg. It is part of the Hamburg Metropolitan Region, and one of Hamburg's inner suburbs...
a row of pubs and restaurants, the Stintmarkt
, is named after the fish.
In modern times the smelt was of no real significance because it could only be caught in polluted rivers in small quantities and as a result was not in great demand. As the water quality of rivers has improved it can increasingly often be caught in large numbers by smaller fishmongers. Restaurants have especially benefited from the catching and cooking of smelt because the fish is offered as a seasonal speciality. Some of these restaurants have also been successfully run by the smelt fishermen themselves.
Although it is very small, the smelt is prized as food. Its head is usually removed, but the tail and the bones are not because they are very soft. Smelt is generally eaten by hand. The fish is usually fried, although in North Germany it is traditionally rolled in rye flour and then fried in butter
Butter is a dairy product made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk. It is generally used as a spread and a condiment, as well as in cooking applications, such as baking, sauce making, and pan frying...
with bacon. Typical accompaniments include roast potatoes, potato salad and Apfelmus
or apple sauce.
The smelt is also smoked or rolled up and pickled like herring
Herring is an oily fish of the genus Clupea, found in the shallow, temperate waters of the North Pacific and the North Atlantic oceans, including the Baltic Sea. Three species of Clupea are recognized. The main taxa, the Atlantic herring and the Pacific herring may each be divided into subspecies...