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Smelts (zool.: Osmeridae) are a botanical family of small fish in the order of Osmeriformes. They are bony fish of the infraclass Teleostei and are very similar in appearance to salmon fish. Smelts are small schooling fish that may be migratory or non-migratory. Migratory species are mostly anadromous. They live in the coastal waters of temperate or cold oceans of the Northern hemisphere and travel to freshwater to spawn. The family of smelts contains 4 genera and 6 species.

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Physiology of smelts

One shared characteristic of smelts is a fat fin between caudal and dorsal fin. Their mouth is wide and the lower jaw protrudes clearly. The body of smelts is slender with delicate sloping scales. Most smelts have no great economic value. Their taste reminds of cucumbers. In most European countries they are not commonly sold fresh. Often they are processed to animal feed or fish oil.

Some species of smelts are:

  • Eulachon (zool.: Thaleichthys pacificus). Up to 30 cm long. Its habitat is the north western Pacific. Also known as Candlefish because its meat is very oily.
  • Surf smelt or silver smelt (zool.: Hypomesus pretiosus). Up to 25 cm long and native to the Asian coasts of the Pacific, as well as from Alaska to Southern California. Popular in Japan and China, where it is grilled or fried.
  • Capelin (zool.: Mallotus villosus). Up to 20 cm long. Its habitat is the Arctic Ocean, the most northern part of the pacific and around the North Pole.
  • European smelt (zool.: Osmerus eperlanus).

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