European Sprat

European Sprat
  • Scientific name: Sprattus sprattus
  • Also known as: Skipper, Bristling
  • Size: Up to 15cm in length
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: No record listed.
  • IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)
  • Distribution: All around the UK and Ireland.
  • Feeds on: Fish eggs, larvae and plankton.
  • Description: Small fish with shiny, silvery scales. Head is small and mouth is upturned with lower jaw slightly protruding. The tail is deeply forked. Dorsal, anal and pectoral fins are all very small.
Commercially caught sprats
Sprats are caught commercially in huge numbers.

Sprat is often used as a generic term for any kind of small fish. However, the European sprat is a specific species of forage fish which are common all around the UK. Sprat form into large shoals and can be found in water ranging from a few metres deep all the way down to around one hundred metres. In the summer months vast shoals of sprat can come into inshore waters and estuaries, and sprat can travel surprisingly far up rivers as this species can live in water with a low salinity level. Sprat feed on tiny fish larvae and plankton and are themselves a major part of the marine food chain, as they provide a source of food for practically all predatory fish found in UK waters. They are also an important source of food for marine birds such as gannets and herring gulls and marine mammals.


The European sprat is found all around the UK in the warm summer months. They are common in the North Atlantic and found northwards as far as the Baltic Sea. Their range extends southwards to the northern waters around the African continent and they are found throughout the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Commercial Value and Population Trends

Sprat are popular as a food fish and are usually caught by purse seine methods in fisheries that specialise in catching mid-water species. They are usually smoked or fried and can also be tinned. The soft bones of the sprat mean that the entire fish, including its head and tail, is perfectly edible and sprats are cooked whole without being gutted. They are a traditional and important fish in eastern European countries and were once popular in the UK. Their reputation as a food fish has declined in Britain in recent decades, although they appear to have made something of a comeback in the last few years with some UK supermarkets now selling sprats on their wet fish counters. Sprat is also heavily utilised for non-human consumption purposes, such as being processed into fishmeal for use in industrial feeds for livestock and farmed fish.

The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) classes European sprat as a species of Least Concern both in European waters and globally, although in the Mediterranean they are classified as Data Deficient. Stocks are believed to be relatively healthy but this species is highly commercially important meaning that

Use as Bait

Sprats are not commonly used as a sea fishing bait in the UK, and can be effective when they are float fished for large pelagic species such as pollock. They are very cheap to buy from the fish counters of supermarkets and fishmongers. Click here for more information on using sprats as bait.