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The New Zealand common smelt: biology and ecology

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The common smelt is one of the most widespread indigenous freshwater fishes in New Zealand. One other member of the family Retropinnidae, Stokellia anisodon(Stokell), is present but is confined to a small region of the South Island. There are many diadromous as well as river and lake resident populations, the latter, sometimes a result of introductions to serve as forage fish for trout. Diadromous smelt spawn during austral autumn–winter on sand bars of lower riverine reaches. Larval stages inhabit coastal marine waters, and the postlarvae to immature stages re‐enter rivers and some lowland lakes. Diadromous smelt are distinguished from lowland lake resident forms by high vertebral but low gill raker numbers and larger size and from those present in some isolated waters, by high vertebral numbers alone. Lake or reservoir resident smelt usually spawn in austral spring–summer on sandy shallows at stream mouths or along shorelines. Verified smelt ages (otolith analyses) indicate that in some populations most smelt mature and spawn after c. 1 year. Adult smelt feed on a spectrum of primarily invertebrate animals ranging from small zooplankters to insects and occasionally small fishes. Smelt are a major prey for both brown trout and rainbow trout. Adult smelt are a minor food for the Maori people. As postlarvae they are a component of a few ‘whitebait’ fisheries. Most smelt populations are increasingly affected by environmental changes induced by human activities. Although many studies have examined problems affecting smelt, further effort is required, along with more basic research.
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Keywords: New Zealand; biology; common smelt; ecology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, University of Manitoba, c/o 51 Macalester Bay, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 2X6, Canada, 2: Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, c/o RR2 S77 C2 Summerland, British Columbia, V0H 1Z0, Canada and 3: c/o 803A Bruntwood Road, RD 3, Hamilton, New Zealand

Publication date: 2005-01-01

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