Forage Fish
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Closeup photo of Whitebait Smelt with descriptions of identifying anatomy.

Forage Fish Identification Guide

Whitebait Smelt
Allosmerus elongatus

Little is known about the marine populations of this species. Rarely caught in the Puget Sound Basin but represents a common forage fish species in the Columbia River plume. Incidentally caught off the Washington coast by commercial harvesters during trawl fisheries.

Description: The body of the Whitebait Smelt is elongate and pale greenish with a greenish-grey back and a silver band along its sides.  This species has a maxillary that extends past the midpoint of a large eye.  Whitebait Smelt have an incomplete lateral line and a small adipose fin that is directed backwards.  Unlike most other smelt species, which generally have no enlarged teeth in the roof of their mouth, the Whitebait Smelt has a single large canine-like tooth in the center, which is sometimes flanked by a smaller tooth on either side.

Maximum Size: To 22.9 cm (9 in) in length.

Maximum Age: Currently unknown.

Range/Habitat: Whitebait Smelt range from Vancouver Island to San Francisco, California.  This species is a mostly nearshore and pelagic fish.  Schools of Whitebait Smelt are found from the surface to 103 m (338 ft) and might extend down to 131 m (430 ft).  Whitebait Smelt feed on zooplankton and small fishes.  They are an important prey species for many marine mammals and birds.


  • Love, M.S., 2011. Certainly More Than You Want to Know About The Fishes of The Pacific Coast: A Postmodern Experience. Really Big Press, Santa Barbara, California, 650 p.
  • Paquin, M.M., Kagley, A.N., Fresh, K.L. and Orr, J.W., 2014. First Records of the Night Smelt, Spirinchus starksi, in the Salish Sea, Washington. Northwestern Naturalist, 95(1), pp.40-43.
  • Encyclopedia of Life: Whitebait Smelt
  • Whitebait Smelt Wiki

Photo: Marisa Litz