Whitebaiters call smelt ‘cucumber fish’. There are two species of these small shimmering silver fish.

Common smelt. Photo copyright: Stephen Moore. DOC USE ONLY.
Common smelt

Whitebaiters call smelt 'cucumber fish' because they smell like cucumber.

The small shimmering silver fish occur in large shoals in estuaries and lowland rivers. They spend most of their lives at sea. Some return to freshwater as juveniles in spring but most return as adults in summer when they are about 10 cm long. They can also be found in some lakes.

There are two species – the common smelt is found throughout the country, and Stokell's smelt is found only in Canterbury.

Common smelt

Conservation status: Not threatened
Size: usually 90 mm to 100 mm – largest known 165 mm

Stokell's smelt

Conservation status: At-risk – naturally uncommon
Size: usually 70 mm to 85 mm but can grow up to 100 mm

Back to top