Friday May 27, 2022

The Challis Messenger

Fisheries biologists use funny words sometimes when describing a fish’s life. Biologists who work with salmon and steelhead often talk about smolts. So, what exactly is a smolt?

Tim Copeland, Fisheries Natural Resource Program coordinator reminds people it’s smolt, not smelt.

“The word ‘smolt’ comes from Old English smeolt,” Copeland said. “It had several meanings like calm, gentle, smooth but also bright or shining. Bright or shiny definitely describes a young migrating salmon and steelhead.”

A smolt is a young salmon or trout that is moving from fresh water to the ocean. Along the way, the fish change from living in a stream to living in the saltwater of the open ocean, Copeland said. The radical change in environment is accompanied by changes in the young fish. Salmon and steelhead may start the process while still in Idaho in April and May but won’t complete it until reaching the Pacific Ocean.

Several things happen as a young salmon or steelhead becomes a smolt, Copeland said. The fish move downstream and get ready to enter saltwater.

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