Sprat: New Fish Species Breeding Off Iceland’s Coast Skip to content
Photo: Hafrannsóknarstofnun. Sprat (above) and small herring (below)..

Sprat: New Fish Species Breeding Off Iceland’s Coast

Researchers have confirmed that the fish species sprat is spawning in Icelandic waters, according to a new report from Iceland’s Marine and Freshwater Research Institute. Sprat has been found in significant numbers off the south and west coast and spawned near Ísafjarðardjúp fjord in the Westfjords last year. Sprat first appeared near the Icelandic coast in 2017, and its numbers have been increasing since. 

Probably originate from Faroese waters

As seen in the picture above, sprat is not dissimilar to herring, a commercial species important in Icelands fishing industry. It has likely reproduced in more locations than just near Ísafjarðardjúp, according to the report. Over the past few years, Icelandic vessels have fished the species in greater numbers.

The most likely explanation for the appearance of sprat is that sprat larvae were carried to Icelandic waters by ocean currents before hatching near the coast of Iceland. Approximately 1,000 tonnes of sprat was fished by Faroese vessels in 2020, and the larvae likely originated from Faroese waters; however, no eggs, larvae, or mature sprat have been found in the waters between Iceland and the Faroe Islands, says Jón Sólmundsson, an ichthyologist with the Marine & Freshwater Research Institute, and who recently authored an article on sprat in the magazine Náttúrufræðingurinn

Even though sprat was first fished near Iceland in 2017, Jón believes that the species had been fished by Icelandic fishing vessels earlier, given its similarity in appearance to young herring. 

Only time will tell

Sprat is the common name applied to a group of forage fish belonging to the genus Sprattus in the family Clupeidae. Sprat is a highly active, small, oily fish, which travels in sizeable schools with other fish and swims continuously throughout the day. According to Jón, it is unclear whether sprat will begin to breed near the Icelandic coast more permanently; water temperature and other environmental factors will determine whether sprat will become an important species within Icelandic fishing grounds.

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