Australian Whitebait, Lovettia sealii (Johnston 1883)

Other Names: Derwent Smelt, Derwent Whitebait, Tasmanian Troutlet, Tasmanian Whitebait, Whitebait, Whitebait

An Australian Whitebait, Lovettia sealii, from the Tarwin River, Victoria. Source: Renae Ayres / Arthur Rylah Institute, Victoria. License: All rights reserved


Tasmanian Whitebait have a long, slender scaleless body, with a broad depressed head, a large mouth, a single dorsal fin on the middle of the back above the abdominal pelvic fins and a small adipose fin. 

At sea, they are transparent with a silvery mid-lateral stripe. During their spawning migration into the upper parts of estuaries, rivers and streams, they become greyish-black.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. & Gomon, M.F. 2020, Lovettia sealii in Fishes of Australia, accessed 14 Jul 2024,

Australian Whitebait, Lovettia sealii (Johnston 1883)

More Info


Endemic to seas and the lower reaches of coastal rivers in Victoria (Andersons Inlet and the Tarwin River) and northern, western and far south-eastern Tasmania; absent from King and Flinders islands, Bass Strait.

The species is anadromous - adults migrate in shoals from the sea to the lower reaches/upper tidal estuaries of rivers during late winter and spring to spawn.


Dorsal fin 7-9; Anal fin 16-19; Pectoral fin (segmented rays) 10-11; Pelvic fin 7; Gill rakers (total) 22-24; Vertebrate 52-62 (usually 53-57).

Body slender, elongate, moderately compressed, depth 8-10 % SL; head broad and depressed, head length 19-22% SL; snout length 28-33% SL; snout long and acute; eye high in head, diameter 21-26% SL; mouth relatively large, oblique; lower jaw protruding; jaw teeth uniserial, restricted to premaxilla and dentary; mesopterygoid teeth strong, uniserial; lingual teeth biserial; gill rakers long and slender; Sexes differ conspicuously in position of urogenital papilla, males also have larger pectoral fins and ventrally expanded, papillate opercular membranes. Scales absent

Dorsal fin origin above or just behind ventral fin origin; dorsal fin high, distal margin rounded; caudal fin forked with short but distinct peduncle flanges; anal fin with longer base than dorsal fin; pectoral fin long and narrow; adipose fin present midway between dorsal and caudal fins; pelvic fins placed mid-body.


Marine/estuarine adults reach 7.7 cm, usually to 6.5 cm (LCF). Marine juvenile size unknown.


Body transparent overall, reportedly with a silvery mid-lateral stripe when at sea, becoming greyish to blackish during the spawning migration. Pigmentation increases as fish move up estuaries, becoming almost black following spawning; underside of females yellowish when gravid. fins usually clear except caudal fin rays with small black dots. Eyes silvery. Larval or early juvenile colouration unknown.

The sexes are conspicuously different when mature in the position of the urogenital papilla. Mature females have a large everted papilla just before the anal fin; mature males have the anus and a large urogenital papilla located ventrally between pectoral fins on isthmus. Males also have larger pectoral fins and ventrally expanded, papillate, opercular membranes.


Tasmanian Whitebait have a one-year life-cycle. Adults shoal and migrate from the sea to spawn in the lower reaches/upper tidal estuaries of rivers during late winter and spring. Females deposit their adhesive demersal eggs onto the rocky bottom or amongst woody debris such as submerged logs. After hatching, the larvae are washed downstream and out to sea where they develop and grow. Adults die sometime after spawning.


Tasmanian Whitebait formed the basis of a large commercial fishery targeting adults during their spawning migration in northern Tasmania. The fishery peaked in the 1940’s, with catches up to 480 000kg/annum. However, catches declined and the fishery was closed in 1949, then reopened in 1950. Catches continued to decline until the fishery was closed after the 1973 season. Populations were very slow to recover.

Historically, recreational fishing for Tasmanian Whitebait was also very popular. In 1990, the recreational fishery was reopened. Fishers are permitted to take whitebait from above the seaward limit in selected rivers during a limited period in Spring. An Inland Fisheries Licence is required and anglers can take 2kg of fish per person per day, to a maximum of 10kg per person per season.

Tasmanian Whitebait Fishery Regulatory Management Plan 2005-2010. (Contains relevant background information)

Tasmanian Whitebait Fishery Regulatory Management Plan 2011-2015.

While Tasmanian Whitebait are targeted as adults, whitebait runs typically include a mix of galaxiid juveniles migrating upstream to freshwaters, and smelt. In the 1940's, the runs comprised about 95% Lovettia. By 1965, this percentage of Lovettia in the catch in northern Tasmanian rivers had fallen to 25%.

Similar Species

Differs from other galaxiid fishes in having an adipose fin, the dorsal fin positioned before the anal fin, and in being strongly sexually dimorphic. The similar-looking smelt (Retropinna) are covered in scales (Lovettia lack scales) and have the dorsal-fin positioned further back on the body above the anal fin.

Species Citation

Haplochiton sealii Johnston, 1883, Pap. Proc. R. Soc. Tasm. 1882: 53-144. Type locality: Derwent River, Tasmania.


Bray, D.J. & Gomon, M.F. 2020


Atlas of Living Australia

Australian Whitebait, Lovettia sealii (Johnston 1883)


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Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37103002

Biology:Migratory (anadromous)

Conservation:VIC Critically Endangered

Fishing:Recreational fish

Habitat:Coastal marine, estuarine

Max Size:8 cm TL


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CAAB distribution map