Rainbow Smelt Survey

The goal of this project, led by the Maine Department of Marine Resources, is to conserve and restore wild populations of rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax), within the U.S. Gulf of Maine watershed. This anadromous fish is listed by the National Marine Fisheries Service as a species of concern as a result of over-harvest, water quality and habitat degradation, inaccessibility of spawning grounds, and possible disease issues. Chris Bartlett established two index sites in Washington County to monitor spawning smelt populations and collect information on water quality and habitat status. This effort is part of a larger, five year study involving partners in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

Anadromous rainbow smelt are found along the northwest Atlantic Ocean from Newfoundland to New Jersey, but centers of abundance are Maine and the Maritime provinces. They are an important forage species for many species, including Atlantic salmon, striped bass, and many avian predators. The current status of rainbow smelt populations for the majority of the Gulf of Maine is not well known, especially east of the Kennebec drainage. Maine’s commercial landings of rainbow smelt, once as high as 1.6 million pounds, declined to less than 200,000 pounds by 1950 and remained at this low level through the 1960s.