Invading species

Rainbow Smelt

Where They Can be Found

Rainbow smelt can be found to the north Atlantic coastal regions of North America and a few lakes in the Ottawa Valley. They have also been spotted near the St. Lawrence River watershed. Deliberate stocking in Michigan in the early 1900s led to established rainbow smelt populations in lakes Erie, Michigan, Huron and Superior. The fish likely invaded Lake Ontario from Atlantic coastal areas through the Erie Canal. More recently people have illegally introduced rainbow smelt to inland lakes.

How the Rainbow smelt impacts us

The rainbow smelt impacts us by it eating habits eating habits. They disrupt food webs and lead to declines of the small animals known as zoo plankton that are eaten by other fish.The introduction of rainbow smelt has led to reduced populations of native fish species such as yellow perch (Perca flavescens), walleye (Sander vitreus), lake herring (Coregonus artedi), whitefish (C. clupeaformis) and lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush. Rainbow smelt eat the young of other species and may then be eaten by other adult fish, resulting in higher concentrations of contaminants in native fish that may be a human health risk.

How to Identify a Rainbow Smelt

Adult rainbow smelt have long, slim bodies averaging 19 centimetres in length.
Bodies are olive green on the back, with purple, pink and blue iridescence on the sides and a silvery belly.
The mouth is large, with a protruding lower jaw and large canine teeth on the roof of the mouth and the tongue.
Fins include a single dorsal fin in the middle of the back and a small fleshy fin near the tail, known as an adipose fin.
Scales are small and easily detached.

What You can do

  • Learn how to identify rainbow smelt and how to prevent the spread of this unwanted species.
  • Never buy or use live rainbow smelt as bait; it's against the law.
  • Don’t put any live fish into Ontario lakes, rivers or streams.
  • When cleaning rainbow smelt, be careful not to dump entrails into a lake or river. Fertilized rainbow smelt eggs can easily invade new waters.
  • If you have any information about the illegal importing, distribution or sale of rainbow smelt, report it immediately to the MNR TIPS line at 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667) toll-during regular business hours. You can also call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
  • If you’ve seen a rainbow smelt or other invasive species in the wild, please contact the toll-free Invading Species Hotline at 1-800-563-7711,.