Northern Anchovy

Engraulis mordax

Illustration of a northern anchovy

Also Known As

  • Anchovy
  • North Pacific anchovy
  • California anchovy

U.S. wild-caught northern anchovies are a smart seafood choice because they are sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.


Although northern anchovies are thought to be abundant, the population levels are unknown.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

The gear used to catch northern anchovies is used at the surface and has little impact on habitat.


Bycatch is low because the gear is selective.

  • Availability


  • Source

    Wild-caught off Washington, Oregon, and California.

  • Taste

    Canned or salted anchovies have a pronounced, salty tang, and fresh anchovies have a rich but subtle taste and a soft texture.

  • Texture

    Unprocessed anchovies have soft flesh but canned meat is firm.

  • Color

    Canned anchovies packed in oil are blush red, a result of the salt-curing process. The meat of unprocessed anchovies is gray and becomes off-white when cooked.

  • Health Benefits

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

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • Federal management is coordinated with state fisheries management agencies so that regulations are consistent in state waters (within 3 miles of shore). All states follow federal regulations but some have additional regulations.


  • In 2016, commercial landings of northern anchovy totaled more than 30 million pounds and were valued at more than $2.3 million.
  • Northern anchovies are generally harvested in the United States with round haul gear.
  • Northern anchovies 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 anchovies.
  • Consumer demand for anchovies decreased after the sardine population recovered, and the commercial fishery for northern anchovies gradually declined.
  • Today, northern anchovies are used mainly for bait in other fisheries and sometimes processed into fish meal.

The Science

Population Status

  • Formal stock assessments are not conducted for either the northern or central subpopulations of anchovies, but data is collected to help monitor the populations.
  • The northern sub-population has never been formally assessed, but is thought to be abundant, and has a defined overfishing limit.
  • The central sub-population was last assessed in 1995, and has a defined overfishing limit.


  • Northern anchovies are found from British Columbia to Baja California and in the Gulf of California.
  • Northern anchovies are divided into two sub-populations in the United States:
    • The northern sub-population is found off Oregon and Washington.
    • The central sub-population ranges from California to Baja California, Mexico.


  • Anchovies form large, dense schools near the ocean surface.
  • Anchovy schools move short distances along the shore and offshore.

Physical Description

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


  • Northern anchovies grow quickly, up to about 7 inches.
  • They have a short life cycle; they are able to spawn after 2 years and rarely live longer than 4 years.
  • They have high natural mortality; each year 45 to 55 percent of the total stock would die of natural causes if no fishing occurred.
  • Northern anchovies 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.
  • Northern anchovies feed on plankton (tiny floating plants and animals).
  • They are an important part of the food chain for other fish species, including many recreationally and commercially important fish, as well as birds and marine mammals.


Last updated: 11/28/2017