A little late, but smelt run seems to be starting

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The Sault Ste. Marie District office of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) says it has received information that small numbers of smelt are currently being caught in the Sault and area, indicating the annual smelt run is beginning.

“Many fish species, including rainbow smelt, rely on water temperature as a trigger for spawning. The late onset of spring has caused a delay in the increase of water temperatures which has in turn delayed the smelt run by approximately one to two weeks compared to previous years,” stated Derek Goertz, Sault Ste. Marie District MNRF marine biologist, in an email to SooToday Wednesday.

However, “Sault Ste. Marie District MNRF has recently received information that small numbers of smelt are currently being caught, indicating that the smelt run is beginning. I anticipate the run will be fully underway by the weekend or early next week based on forecasted air temperatures over the next few days,” Goertz wrote.

“Rainbow smelt spawn in the spring typically shortly after ice-out when water temperatures increase to approximately 5 degrees Celsius. The timing is dependent on a number of factors including photoperiod (length of daylight), water temperature and available habitats (low-water may preclude smelt from using some spawning areas). The spawning run may last up to three weeks with the peak generally lasting approximately one week,” Goertz stated.

Goertz added “there is no reason to believe” the late spring will have any negative effect on spawning, such as the size or abundance of the small fish.

Every spring, rainbow smelt migrate from the Great Lakes into tributaries that provide suitable spawning areas. Any streams or rivers connected to the Great Lakes that provide spawning habitat have the potential to host runs of rainbow smelt.

The species has also established itself in a number of inland lakes throughout the area, so spawning runs may occur in tributaries of those lakes as well.

Goertz added a word about the invasive nature of Rainbow smelt.

“Rainbow smelt is a species that is native to north Atlantic coastal regions and a few lakes in the Ottawa Valley. It has naturalized in the Great Lakes through deliberate stocking in Michigan, and likely invaded Lake Ontario via the Erie Canal. It has also been illegally introduced to numerous inland lakes throughout our area and throughout Ontario. Rainbow smelt is an invasive species and its introduction into inland lakes can have serious implications on local fisheries such as reducing populations of native fish species including yellow perch, walleye, lake herring, lake whitefish and lake trout.”

With that, Goertz added “anglers who harvest smelt should take precautions to ensure introduction into new waters does not occur. This can be accomplished by avoiding the transportation of smelt or cleaning buckets and gear in water bodies where smelt do not occur.”

To lawfully harvest rainbow smelt, an Ontario fishing licence is required.

There is no limit on the number of rainbow smelt an angler can harvest, but Goertz added “it is important to recognize that a number of Great Lakes tributaries are designated provincial fish sanctuaries from Apr. 15 to June 15 in order to protect rainbow trout during spawning and other critical life stages. As a result fishing is not permitted within these areas during this time period.”

Anglers, Goertz wrote, should refer to the 2018 Recreational Fishing Regulations Summary for more information.

That summary is available online.

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