Northern Anchovy

Northern Anchovy

Engraulis mordax


    Anchovy, North Pacific Anchovy, California Anchovy


    U.S. wild-caught from Washington, Oregon, and California



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Northern anchovy. Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey.

Northern anchovy. Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey. disclaimer


More than 20 different species in the Engraulidae family are marketed as “anchovy.” Northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax) is the species found and commercially harvested off the West Coast. Today, northern anchovy are harvested mainly for use as bait in other fisheries and sometimes processed into fish meal, but it once supported a multimillion-dollar fishery where catch was sold for human consumption, bait, and reduction into meal, oil, and soluble protein.

Records show that northern anchovy have been fished off the West Coast since at least 1916. The fishery was small until the Pacific sardine fishery collapsed in the 1940s and 1950s. Processors began canning anchovies instead of sardines, and fishermen started harvesting more anchovy. Landings increased from 960 tons in 1946 to 9,464 tons in 1947, then up to nearly 43,000 tons in 1953. Consumer demand for anchovies decreased after the sardine population recovered, and the commercial fishery for northern anchovy gradually declined. Although we don’t see the northern anchovy in the market these days, this resource still supports a small but relatively valuable bait fishery. Northern anchovy’s European counterpart, Engraulis encrasicolus, is the anchovy best known in the culinary world. This European or “true” anchovy is found in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and warmer waters of the East Atlantic and is one of the many anchovies we import for consumption.

Looking Ahead

Scientists believe that changes in environmental conditions greatly influence the abundance of coastal pelagic species such as anchovy. Oceanographic cycles that shift the Pacific Ocean between cool and warm water regimes trigger major population shifts for these species. Anchovy are generally more abundant during a cool water regime. Scientists are concerned about how climate change will affect the productivity of coastal pelagic species. NOAA and its partners operate the PACOOS program disclaimer to track how oceanographic fluctuations affect marine resources, including anchovy.



Northern anchovy are found from British Columbia to Baja California and in the Gulf of California. They swim in schools near the surface of the ocean. Anchovies move short distances along the shore and offshore.



Anchovies grow quickly, up to about 7 inches. They live a short time – rarely longer than 4 years old. Anchovy are able to reproduce when they are 2 years old. They spawn throughout the year, with peak activity from February to April. Females release batches of eggs every 7 to 10 days. The eggs hatch in 2 to 4 days, depending on the temperature of the water.

Anchovy feed on plankton (tiny floating plants and animals). Northern anchovy are an important part of the food chain for other species. A variety of plankton-eating animals feed on anchovy eggs and larvae. Many recreationally and commercially important fish species feed on juvenile anchovy. Salmon, birds, and numerous other fish and marine mammals prey on adult anchovy.



Anchovy are small, compressed fish with long snouts that overhang a large mouth. Their bodies are bluish-green above and silvery below, and adults have a faint silver stripe on the side.



Scientists at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center have researched northern anchovy for years to inform and improve management of the fishery. They also monitor the stock to ensure it is stable.



Anchovy fisheries are managed based on annual harvest data. The Southern Pacific coast stock, found between San Francisco and Baja California, was last assessed in 1995. This stock has a defined overfishing limit, and catch is compared to this limit annually to determine if the stock is subject to overfishing. The Northern population, found off the coast of Oregon and Washington, has never been assessed, and does not have a defined overfishing limit. Northern anchovy harvest has been low in recent years. Scientists monitor harvest of northern anchovy, and should landings increase, managers may recommend further assessing the resource or implementing additional regulations for the fishery.

Anchovies have high natural mortality – each year 45 to 55 percent of the total stock would die of natural causes if no fishing occurred.




Harvesting Northern anchovy

Anchovy is harvested around the world – Africa, Chile, France, Peru, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States are the main suppliers. Northern anchovy are divided into three sub-populations. In the United States, the northern sub-population supports a small bait fishery and an emerging food fishery off Oregon and Washington. The southern sub-population ranges from San Francisco to Baja California, Mexico, and supports commercial fisheries in the United States and Mexico. The third sub-population is entirely within Mexican waters.

Anchovy are mainly harvested using roundhaul gear, which target and encircle a specific school of fish. Bycatch is low in fisheries for coastal pelagic species that use roundhaul gear because the schools of fish typically contain only one species. The most common incidental catch in the fishery is another coastal pelagic species because they sometimes school together.



Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Current management: Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan.

  • Northern anchovy are a “monitored species” – current harvest of this species is low and doesn’t call for annual assessments of stock status.
  • Scientists monitor the fishery through landings data. If landings increase significantly or exceed the annual catch limit, managers may change the level of the fishery’s management.
  • Northern anchovy are subject to the same regulations that apply to all the species within the management plan for coastal pelagic species including a limit on the number and capacity of vessels that can participate in the fishery and provisions to reduce bycatch and increase the survival of any animals that are caught incidentally.

State fisheries management agencies have similar regulations for anchovy fisheries in state waters (out to 3 miles offshore). Some states follow federal regulations but some have additional regulations.

Northern anchovy are a transboundary resource. To ensure sustainability of the coastwide fishery, U.S. scientists make efforts to coordinate and share information and research with neighboring countries.


Annual Harvest

Fishermen harvested more than 13.3 million pounds of northern anchovy from the ocean in 2013. The majority of these landings came from California.



Northern anchovy are harvested mainly for use as bait in other fisheries and sometimes processed into fish meal. Harvests from the emerging food fishery off Oregon and Washington are small. This catch typically goes to high-end grocery stores. The 2013 landings of northern anchovy were worth more than $1 million.



More than 20 different species in the Engraulidae family are marketed as “anchovy.” The majority of the catch is canned, salted, turned into paste, or distilled to make Asian fish sauces. The U.S. catch is mainly used for bait in other fisheries.

Canned anchovy meat is packed in oil and is blush red, a result of the salt-curing process. The meat of unprocessed anchovy is gray and becomes off-white when cooked. Canned or salted anchovies have a pronounced, salty tang, and fresh anchovies have a rich but subtle taste and a soft texture (so substituting canned or salted anchovies in recipes calling for fresh ones is not recommended). The skin is edible. Before using canned fillets, rinse them under cold running water or soak them in cool water for 30 minutes, then drain and pat dry.






Anchovies are high in calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, and selenium but are also high in cholesterol.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g
Calories 131
Protein 20.35 g
Fat, total 4.84 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 1.282 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 60 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 104 mg

Anchovy Table of Nutrition



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