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Surf Smelt
Hypomesus pretiosus

Illustration: Surf Smelt

Fishery Information

The surf smelt (Osmeridai other than Thaleichthys pacificus) of the Burrard Inlet support a modest, traditionally shore-based commercial and recreational fishery. Management of surf smelt in Burrard Inlet involves both protection and conservation of the spawning stock, as well as regulating the sport and commercial fishery. A closure from June 15 to August 15 is set to protect the peak spawning period. In addition, the commercial fishery occurs from Monday to Thursday and the recreational fishery occurs from Friday to Sunday to minimize conflict between commercial and sport fishers.

Surf smelt spawn in the summer in the upper intertidal zone. Multiple spawnings within a tidal cycle and on subsequent days are customary. It is during this spawning migration when smelt are available to the fishery. The main fishery occurs in Burrard Inlet. However, smelt are known to occur in other protected areas of the North Coast and Georgia Strait.

A category "Z-8" licence is required to harvest smelt without a vessel. For information concerning fishing smelt from a registered fishing vessel, contact the Regional Herring Coordinator. Gear used to harvest smelt are seine net (maximum length of 90 m and minimum mesh size of 19 mm), and gill net (maximum length of 275 m and mesh size no less than 25 mm and no greater than 50 mm. Gill nets are permitted in Areas 28 and 29 only).

Species Information


Surf smelt are small marine fish native to the north Pacific. Their range begins in southern Alaska and extends down the coast of North America to southern California. Surf smelt often live quite close to shore, especially as juveniles. A schooling fish, they are found in many coastal estuaries along the Pacific coast, spawning in water as shallow as half a metre, usually on coarse sand or fine gravel beaches.

Species Description

Surf smelt are small, silvery fish with a streamlined body. They have two dorsal fins, the first of which is flat and about midway down their length. The second is very small and close to their tail fin, which is strongly forked. Males and females differ in their colouration, with males having a brown back and yellowish underside and females a bright green back and white underside. Males are also distinguished by the tubercles on their flanks. Both sexes have a dark line that runs down their sides. Surf smelt can grow to about 20 centimetres in length.

Fishery Information

CSAS Documents and Stock Status Reports

Review of surf smelt (Hypomesus pretiosus) biology and fisheries, with suggested management options for British Columbia.
CSAS 2002/115
T.W. Therriault, A.N. McDiarmid, W. Wulff and D.E. Hay

Surf Smelt Stock Status Report - 2002
T. Therriault and B. Mueller

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