Smelt Surveying

A healthy run of smelt on a night time high tide. Photo courtesy of Bailey Bowden

The Downeast Salmon Federation has been collecting data on Rainbow Smelt for many years. Due to recent declines in smelt numbers, there has been in increased effort to collect information on this important species. We are looking for people with an interest in recreational smelt fishing, natural history buffs and/or citizen scientists, to help collect data on the health of the sea-run smelt population, and help identify smelt habitat, in Downeast Maine. This project extends all the way from the Bagaduce watershed to the Canadian border, so we are inviting people anywhere in that region to participate in monitoring streams near where they live. Recreational smelt anglers can provide information on the health of this fishery by making a few simple observations while out smelting.

There are hundreds of smelt streams in our area, and any one person would find it impossible to check all of them for spawning smelts. That is why we are reaching out the community to help collect as much information as we can, so we can stay up to date on the health of our Downeast smelt population.

Here are some resources to help while you are out in the field taking notes. While out in the field, you may come across streams during the day which have no smelt, but may have smelt eggs. This can be useful information to collect, but you may not know what to look for. Below is a picture of smelt eggs on an exposed stream bed. Notice the white dots on the rocky substrate? Those are smelt eggs that have been exposed at low tide and are likely dead. In the stream, where eggs are not exposed, these layers of eggs will be yellow to clear in color.

Smelt eggs on substrate. The white eggs are likely dead, while viable eggs would be clear and under water.

Surveying streams for smelt eggs is a good way to get out and collect information during the day. If you want to see smelt in the stream, you will likely need to go during a night high tide. Click here for a tide chart from U.S. Harbors. When selecting a stream to survey, it is important to remember that smelt will not swim very far above the head of tide, or any obstacles such as waterfalls or dams. There is a survey map here for reference. The sites of importance on this survey map are sites listed as “historical” and sites that no longer support spawning. Of course, any information collected on any smelt stream is important – this map is for reference and to be used as a guide. This Presence-Absence Handout datasheet can be used to collect information. Any and all information is helpful, and if you cannot collect every piece of data on the sheet, that is ok. For more information, please feel free to contact DSF staff member Brett Ciccotelli at