Have you seen this fish in Cumbria?

European smelt (or ‘Sparling’ in Scotland) are a rare species of fish which used to be abundant along the coasts of the British Isles, only visiting our rivers once a year, in early spring, to spawn.

Often remembered for its distinct cucumber scent, this silvery fish only grows to around 30cm and has suffered significant declines over the last 150 years. For generations smelt were caught during their upstream migration, by coastal netsmen or lucky locals, when on their way upriver to the upper tidal limits where they spawn. Here, thousands of silver fish would gather in relatively small sections of river creating a spectacle described as the ‘river boiling with silver flashes, whilst the aromatic scent of cucumber fills the air’.

The Inner Solway (Cumbrian side) was designated as a Marine Conservation Zone for smelt in May 2019. The designation allows better protection of this rare species which was once caught to be sold at markets by local netsmen, or enjoyed as an annual tasty treat by locals.

As part of a Smelt Restoration Management Plan we are hoping to reconnect communities and explore this culturally significant part of local heritage.

If you have any memories to share of smelt, or smelt fishing in your local area, or wish to know more, please get in touch with the Galloway Fisheries Trust Sparling Project Officer Courtney on temp@gallowayfisheriestrust.org or call us on 01671 403011.

We’d love to hear from you.