The European smelt (Osmerus eperlanus), also known as “the cucumber smelt” because its scent is similar to the vegetable, are captured in several small-scale commercial fisheries including those for animal feed, bait, and human consumption.
Consequently, in the United Kingdom, the species – which typically only grows to about 20-25 cm long – has suffered a significant decline in population with a loss of around a third in England and Wales and as high as 80% at sites in Scotland.
This led to the fish being identified as a priority species by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) and its inclusion in the international SEAFARE Project in Europe, which promotes diversification of the aquaculture industry through use of a range of species and alternative, environmentally-friendly production systems.
Heightened interest in the smelt led Bangor University in Wales to develop a culture manual titled, “Conservation Aquaculture Rearing Techniques for the European Smelt.”
“The aim of this manual,” said Dr. Nick Jones, a university research assistant and manual co-author, “is to provide the end-user with all the necessary information required to successfully culture the European smelt for conservation aquaculture purposes.”
“It will also be of benefit to those looking to culture this species commercially.”
Jones helped organize a two-day workshop earlier this year that reviewed the status of the European smelt across its range, looked at the current knowledge base of the species, and discussed newly-developed rearing techniques that will help its future conservation.
The event was well attended by academics, aquatic consultants and fishery managers; attracting 25 attendees to hear speakers from as far away as Estonia, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and from across the UK.
The SEAFARE project covers a variety of species and production systems, with all initiatives carefully assessed for their commercial applicability through a close collaboration with stakeholders and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs).
“The project involves 14 partners, bringing together applied R&D centres, aquaculture industry organisations and environmental agencies across the Atlantic maritime region to promote the sustainable expansion of European aquaculture,” says Niamh Dornan, Communications Officer at AquaTT, the project’s Dublin-based dissemination partner.
Dornan said the project, which is co-funded by the European Union Atlantic Area Transnational Program, is coordinated by specialists from the Centre for Applied Marine Sciences at Bangor University.
– Quentin Dodd