Aquatic Species at Risk - Rainbow Smelt (Lake Utopia small-bodied population)

Species - Details

Rainbow Smelt Lake Utopia small-bodied population
Allen Curry

Scientific name:
Osmerus sp.
Fishes (freshwater)
Threatened, listed under SARA
Region: New Brunswick

Did You Know?

The Lake Utopia dwarf smelt is a distinct population—or possibly a subspecies—of the rainbow smelt species, so called because of the way they colourfully shimmer as they dart through the water.

At a glance

Historically unique to Lake Utopia in New Brunswick, Lake Utopia dwarf smelt were introduced into Meech Lake, Quebec, in 1924. Although the dwarf smelt population in Meech Lake appears to have become established, no reliable data are available to confirm this, and numbers of dwarf smelt in Lake Utopia are thought to be in decline. Observation of the two slow-flowing streams the smelts use for spawning revealed only 200 fish over two days in 1991. An increase in the number of salmonids—members of the salmon family such as Atlantic salmon and brook trout that prey on dwarf smelt—and changes in the ecology of the smelts’ spawning streams could lead the species to extinction.

Lake Utopia dwarf smelt

Photo credit: Allen Curry

About the Lake Utopia dwarf smelt

Named for the lake in which they live, Lake Utopia dwarf smelts are freshwater fish that spawn in one of two slow-flowing streams. The smelts prefer to spawn in the cool of the night, between 9:00 PM and 4:00 AM. Their eggs are sticky and cling to rocks and submerged vegetation to avoid being swept away by the water. Lake Utopia dwarf smelt feeds on zooplankton.

How to recognize a Lake Utopia dwarf smelt

A slender, streamlined fish, the Lake Utopia dwarf smelt is approximately 12 centimetres in length with a fairly long head. The smelt’s back varies in hue from pale green to dark blue; its silvery sides have a blue, purple and pink sheen.

Where the Lake Utopia dwarf smelt lives

Lake Utopia is a coldwater lake that is frozen from early December until the first or second week in April. The two wide tributaries that the dwarf smelts uses for spawning are at the northwestern end of the lake. Neither tributary connects to another lake. Meech Lake affords similar conditions.

Why it’s at risk

Efforts to increase the number of salmonids, which prey on Lake Utopia dwarf smelt, in Lake Utopia will likely have an impact on smelt population. The dwarf smelts are also threatened by water pollution and changes in the habitat of the streams in which they spawn. Additionally, smelt fishing—other than ice fishing—is still permitted on Lake Utopia and is likely impacting the population negatively.

What’s being done

The Lake Utopia dwarf smelt was designated as threatened by COSEWIC in 1998 and is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). In 2002, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy formed a Lake Utopia Dwarf Smelt Conservation and Recovery Team to plan for the survival and recovery of the fish. Composed of representatives from the Province of New Brunswick, non-governmental organizations, private industry, academia and DFO, the team is in the process of completing a recovery strategy.

A survey of Lake Utopia Dwarf Smelt spawning habitat was initiated in 2003. Information collected will be used to develop a method to estimate dwarf smelt abundance in future years.

What can you do?

The Lake Utopia Dwarf smelt will get the protection it needs only if all Canadians work together to reduce threats. Find out more about Lake Utopia dwarf smelt and be aware of man-made threats. Do your best to reduce these threats wherever possible to better protect the dwarf smelt’s critical habitat. Get involved with the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (HSP) or another conservation organization.

Background information provided by Environment Canada in March 2004.