Animals -> Fish -> Searun Fish -> Searun Smelt

Searun Smelt

Rainbow smelt were available to the Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Richibucto and other communities [1-4], Inuit of Makkovik, Labrador [5], the Eastern Abenaki [6], the Beothuk of Newfoundland [7], the Montagnais (Innu) of the Saint Lawrence region [8], and the Wampanoag of Massachusetts [9]. Wainwright Inupiat are reported to have caught rainbow smelt, which they referred to as ilhoganik, from January to March. They jigged for the fish through a hole in the ice that was made with a tuakpok (a wooden pole with an iron point) [10]. A smelt caught at Cape Bathurst in the western Arctic coast was identified as the Pacific subspecies of rainbow smelt [11]. The Micmac caught smelt in spring during spawning season [2, 4] using weirs called “nesakun” which consisted of a line of wooden stakes were driven into the ground at the mouth of the tidal streams and rivers; the fish swam over the wall at high tide and then were caught inside when the tide receded [1, 3].


1.         Speck FG, Dexter RW: Utilization of animals and plants by the Micmac Indians of New Brunswick. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 1951, 41(8):250-259.

2.         Bock PK: Micmac. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15: Northeast. edn. Edited by Trigger BG. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1978: 109-122.

3.         Prins HEL: The Mi'kmaq: Resistance, Accommodation, and Cultural Survival, vol. Series: Case studies in Cultural Anthropology. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers; 1996.

4.         Stoddard NB: Micmac Foods, vol. re-printed from the Journal of Education February 1966. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Halifax Natural Science Museum; 1970.

5.         Mackey MGA, Orr RDM: An Evaluation of Household Country Food Use in Makkovik, Labrador, July 1980 - June 1981. Arctic 1987, 40(1):60-65.

6.         Snow DR: Eastern Abenaki. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15: Northeast. edn. Edited by Trigger BG. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1978: 137-139.

7.         Hansen HJ, Campbell PGC: Aluminium Speciation in Rivers on the Canadian Precambian Shield (Cote-Nord du St. Laurent, Quebec) during Snowmelt. Journal unknown:372-379.

8.         Rogers ES, Leacock E: Montagnais-Naskapi. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 6: Subarctic. edn. Edited by Helm J. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1981: 169-189.

9.         Speck FG, Dexter RW: Utilization of marine life by the Wampanoag Indians of Massachusetts. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 1948, 38(8):257-265.

10.       Nelson RK: Hunters of The Northern Ice. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; 1969.

11.       Stefansson V: My Life with the Eskimo. In: My Life with the Eskimo. edn. New York: The Macmillan Company; 1913.

The rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) is a searun representative of a family of small, slender, and silvery schooling fish, which includes species that are exclusively found in saltwater, like the surf smelt (Hypomesus pretiosus) and the capelin (Mallotus villosus), and others that are most often found in freshwater, like the pond smelt (H. olidus) [1].

The rainbow smelt include searun populations occurring along the North American Atlantic coasts, from Virginia to the Labrador, and around the Arctic and Pacific coasts to British Columbia, but also native landlocked populations in lakes of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and introduced populations in eastern and central North America, like in the Great Lakes. In the spring, schools of rainbow smelt leave shallow coastal waters to ascend rivers and streams to spawn, while landlocked populations leave lake midwaters to spawn in streams or on lake shores. They are quite small, and rarely reach more than 25 cm long [2].


1.         Wooding FH: Lake, river and sea-run fishes of Canada. Madeira Park, BC, Canada: Harbour Publishing; 1997.

2.         "Osmerus mordax Mitchill, 1814." []


Images provided below were obtained from: Encyclopedia of Life. Available from
Rainbow smelt
© Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Fishes
Supplier: National Museum of Natural History Collections
This map is based on occurrence records available through the GBIF network