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A Shoal of Smelt
Fish #60 European Smelt Osmerus eperlanus ~ Rebecca Groom
Soft Sculpture 100 x 45 cm
Eighteen "soft sculpture" European Smelt woven through a piece of discarded fishing net. The Smelt were digitally painted and sewn by the artist, their sizes are within the known range for adults of this species. Each of the Smelt is scented like cucumber and can be removed from the net to be handled and examined.
The European Smelt is a species of fish native to the coastal waters of Europe. The genus name Osmerus means "odorous", referring to the fact they give off a freshly cut cucumber-like smell when freshly caught. These fish reach sexual maturity when around 12cm long. Their average size is 15 to 18cm long, but the largest recorded individual was a whopping 45cm in length. They primarily inhabit marine midwaters and estuaries, with a freshwater form found in larger lakes in Northern Europe. They are carnivores with surprisingly ferocious teeth for their size, their diet consists primarily of crustaceans and shrimp, with larger individuals eating small fish. They are considered harmless to humans. They enter rivers to spawn between February and May, each female laying 8,000-50,000 small yellow eggs along lake shores and fast-flowing sandy or gravelly river beds. Many individuals die after spawning.
European Smelt are used by humans as food, as bait and as a source of fish oil. During spawning the fish can be easily caught with nets as they travel upriver. They are considered of 'Least Concern' on the IUCN Red List, but local populations are threatened by pollution and barriers to their migration upriver to spawn, such as dams. Generally their populations are in good health. In the UK, the minimum size they are allowed to be caught at is 20cm long. This species is not of commercial interest in the UK so is rarely targeted by commercial fishermen. In Germany, Russia and Eastern Europe, Smelt are a regional specialty, where it is fried in butter and eaten whole without removing their soft bones.
About the Artist: Rebecca Groom is an artist with a background in science who specialises in designing and making realistic soft toys of various animals, both extant and extinct. Her plushies are created using modern techniques- she paints her patterns digitally, which are then printed onto fabric, cut out and sewn by the artist into 3D soft sculptures. The custom printed fabric allows greater creative freedom than working with plain fabric and lends her work its distinctive style. Rebecca has a passion for bringing extinct creatures to "life", informed by the latest scientific knowledge. This desire to communicate scientific understanding is reflected in her Palaeoplushies series, which includes animals such as dinosaurs, pterosaurs, marine reptiles and more recently extinct creatures such as the Thylacine, all presented in a tactile, easily understood form. Recently she has begun to make soft toy fish, inspired by her own tropical freshwater aquarium. The 200Fish project marks the creation of her first native saltwater fish design, which will hopefully not be her last!
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