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Volunteer Program Provides Opportunity to Contribute to Restoration of Rainbow Smelt

Here’s your chance to support restoration of rainbow smelt, a small fish with a big impact on Maine’s coastal ecosystem, culture, and economy.

The fourth annual Spring Spawning Smelt Survey is a research program of The Maine Department of Marine Resource (DMR), the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the Downeast Salmon Federation and The Nature Conservancy. The program engages individuals of all ages and backgrounds in a long-term, scientifically rigorous survey to identify smelt spawning presence and absence in Maine.

“Rainbow smelt are important prey for seals, birds, Atlantic cod, and salmon, and a prized species for recreational and commercial fishermen, but they have been in decline since the 1980s,” said DMR Scientist Danielle Frechette, Ph.D.

“Monitoring the strength of the spring spawning runs is a key way that biologists keep track of how well smelt are doing from year to year. But with more tidal coastline than California and nearly 300 historic spawning streams to visit, scientists need more boots on the ground to effectively monitor their populations here in Maine,” said Frechette.

Volunteers must take part in one of two training sessions offered this spring: March 7 from 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. for volunteers working from southern Maine to the Penobscot Bay; and April 3 from 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. on for volunteers who want to work from east of the Penobscot Bay to the Canadian border.

To register for a training session, contact Dr. Frechette by email at

Once trained, volunteers will head to streams to look for the small shiny fish and to record important data, including the estimated number of smelt or eggs, water depth, the type of substrate, canopy cover, barriers to smelt passage, and availability of public access to the waterway.

Volunteers will then submit their data via a website hosted by the Gulf of Maine Ecosystem Investigation Network:

“The goal of this work is to develop a body of data that can help resource managers and biologists understand the habitat use of rainbow smelt and to prioritize restoration efforts,” said Frechette. 

“This project also provides an opportunity for people to contribute in a very hands-on way to the rigorous science necessary for restoration of this important sea-run species.”

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