Can Minnows Live in Saltwater?

The minnow family is quite a large one. Most people think of minnows as small silver fish. However, the minnow family extends way beyond that and even into larger subspecies that you may not be aware of, like carp who belong to the minnow family.

Are There Any Saltwater Minnows?

Minnow is a name for a group of small fish from the Cyprinidae family. All minnows can live in a freshwater environment. And although they prefer habitats like clear rivers and sandy-bottomed lakes, bogs, and swamps, some speciesĀ live in low saline and brackish waters.

Saltwater Minnows:

  • Sheepshead Minnow
  • Eurasian Minnow
  • Mud MInnow
  • Pike Topminnow
  • Galaxias
  • Bristlmouths

Sheepshead minnow

One of the minnows that can survive in saline waters is the sheepshead minnow. They are native to the eastern coast of North America, from Cape Cod to the Yukatan peninsula and West Indies.

Sheepshead minnows are euryhaline, which means they can be found in freshwater and saltwater alike. They can adapt to different levels of salinity in the water thanks to their plasma osmotic regulation. The regulation is so good that it allows the little fish to survive in the salinity ranging from 0ppt to 140ppt, which is four times saltier than the ocean.

Sheepshead minnows live in mangrove swamps, estuaries, coastal waters, but you can also find them, i.e., up the Cape Fear River up to Fayetteville or throughout Florida.

Eurasian minnow

Another minnow that can survive in the salty waters is the Eurasian minnow. They are native to Europe from Spain to Great Britain and northern Asia to eastern Siberia and Korea. 

Eurasian minnow, also known as common minnow, is mainly found in lakes, ponds, and rivers, in cool, fresh waters rich in oxygen. Although mainly a freshwater fish, they can thrive in the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea, one of the biggest brackish water bodies in the world.

In parts of the Baltic Sea, Eurasian minnows got accustomed to the waters they are considered ecomorph. They separated from strands living in the rivers and streams, and now they no longer need freshwater for spawning.

Mud Minnow

Mud minnow, or bull minnow, is not a real minnow. Although considered freshwater fish, mud minnows can withstand the salinity of brackish and coastal waters and estuaries.

As the name suggests, Mud minnows live in the muddy environment, in the shallows of 10 inches or less, buried tail-half in the mud. The easiest time to spot and catch mud minnows is low tide when they kick up the mud with their fins while looking for food in the shallow waters.

Minnows of the Deep

There are 13 species of fish living only in the ocean over 1000 feet deep. Those fish are bristlemouths and belong to the Cyclothone family. They are also known as minnows of the deep, and they are bioluminescent.

Most people probably never heard of them due to their primarily inaccessible habitat, but they are believed to be the most abundant fish species dwelling in the ocean.

Pike topminnow

Another minnow that can survive well in fresh and saltwater is pike topminnow, also known as pike killifish. Those small pike-like fish are native to Central America but have been introduced in Florida.

They prefer to live in slow-flowing rivers, ponds, and lakes, but you can often spot them in brackish waters, estuaries, and coastal waters with a salinity of up to 40 ppt.


The Common Galaxias are dwelling only in countries in Southern Hemisphere, from Chile and Argentina, through some Pacific Islands, like New Caledonia, New Zealand, and Tasmania to Southern Australia.

The adults are primarily freshwater fish but can adapt easily to brackish waters. Galaxias live in coastal streams and rivers, and edges of the lagoons. 

The larvae and fry live marine life. After hatching, they are swept by tides into the coastal waters, where they spend 3-6 months until they are grown big enough (1.8 – 2.1 inches) to migrate into freshwater.

Can Freshwater Minnows Live in Saltwater?

Saltwater Minnows

Many freshwater minnows are susceptible to water quality and salinity. They are stenohaline and are restricted only to the freshwater environment. Due to the low amount of salt in their bodies and no need to drink water, most freshwater minnows put in saltwater die from dehydration after only a few minutes. 

Minnows that can regulate their osmotic pressure can survive the change from freshwater to saltwater. But even with the ability to adapt from fresh to salty water, fish must make the change slowly to allow the body to adjust to different salinity. 

Can you Catch Saltwater Fish With Minnows?

Even though most minnows can’t survive long in the saltwater, you can still use them as bait for saltwater fishing, like flounder or mangrove snapper. Those fish usually take on dead bait, so if your minnow dies on the hook, there is still a big chance to get a nice catch.

Fishing with bull minnows and sheepshead minnows caught in the coastal waters gives you an advantage over other freshwater minnows. They generally survive on the hook for longer, allowing you to catch fish that prefer live bait, like sea trout, white perch, red drum, and croakers.


There are many minnows that can live in saltwater, some of these minnows live mainly in saltwater while others frequent saltwater or can survive in saltwater for short periods of time. Although all of the fish above may not be true minnows, some of them a commonly known as a minnow.

Minnows also make good bait for saltwater fishing, if possible try and choose a minnow that can live in saltwater or survive in saline water for long periods of time.

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