The Rainbow Smelt is well known on the Great Lakes but is native to the north Atlantic coastal region of North America and the lower St. Lawrence River watershed. They were stocked in a Michigan lake in 1912 and spread throughout the four upper Great Lakes. They likely spread into Lake Ontario from the Erie Canal, which connected New York to Buffalo in the 1920s. They have also been illegally released in smaller, inland water bodies.
Within their native range, most Rainbow Smelt spend most of their lives at sea before migrating into freshwater streams to spawn, although there are some landlocked, freshwater populations. Those in the Great Lakes migrate in large schools into streams and along shorelines to spawn during the spring ice breakup. Females release up to 50,000 eggs.
Rainbow Smelt eat plankton (small animals and plants in the water) and the eggs and young of native fish species.
Rainbow Smelt are established in the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, the lower Ottawa River watershed and many inland lakes. It has also been introduced to the Hudson Bay watershed, Lake Winnipeg and lakes in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba.
How can you help?