Opportunities and challenges for managing European smelt (Osmerus eperlanus); a threatened UK species

Profile Display Name:

Georgina Fauconier (Collins)

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Start Year

2017 (Cohort 4)

Research interests:

Fish, parasitology and aquatic/marine science

Hobbies and interests:

Surfing, fishkeeping.

PhD Project
PhD Title

Opportunities and challenges for managing European smelt (Osmerus eperlanus); a threatened UK species

Research Theme

Biodiversity and Ecology

Primary Supervisor
Primary Institution


Secondary Supervisor
Secondary Institution



Ecological data on Osmerus eperlanus, also known as the European smelt, is extremely limited in the United Kingdom. The small diadromous fish species which belongs to the Osmeridae family is found in the Northeastern Atlantic from the White Sea to the western coasts of France including the Baltic Sea, Southern North Sea and British Isles. A report on the status of Smelt in the UK, published in 2003 suggested that there are approximately 21 populations around the coasts of England (19) and Wales (2). Smelt populations have declined across Europe, with the fish now considered a rarity within the Thames. Little is known about the parasite fauna of smelt in general, with even less known about the populations living in the UK. Annual surveys by the Environment Agency together with the Smelt Project survey run by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have been monitoring the smelt populations within the tidal Thames and greater UK. Their 2018 samples have revealed an increasing prevalence of xenomas (cysts) within the gut of young-of-the-year smelt. The smelt are thought to have been infected with a microsporidian parasite. In other smelt populations, infection with similar parasites has been linked to local population crashes. The first aim is to identify the microsporidian parasite using molecular ID techniques and histopathology. Once this has been established, we will look into the potential physiological and ecological impacts associated with this parasitic infection. This project is being undertaken in conjunction with the Environment Agency and ZSL. The project is funded by the London NERC doctoral training partnership.

Policy Impact

Smelt are listed as a Species Feature of Conservation of Importance under the ecological network guidance and a UK BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) Priority Species of principle importance for the purpose of conserving biodiversity under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act S. 41 (2006). Furthermore the species is a sensitive indicator of Good Ecological Status under the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Smelt were also named as a Focus for Conservation Importance (FOCI) species in 2010. Therefore this work will contribute to improving knowledge on smelt which is necessary for its conservation and protection.

Background Reading

Environment Agency National Fisheries Laboratory (Environment Agency) website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/environment-agency



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