Pacific Sardine

Sardinops sagax caerulea

Pacific sardine illustration.

Also Known As

  • Pilchard
  • California sardine
  • California pilchard
  • Sardina
  • Sardine

Commercial fishing for Pacific sardines is prohibited because the population is estimated to be below a precautionary level set by managers.


Significantly below target population levels.

Fishing Rate

The fishery is closed because the population is estimated to be below a precautionary level set by managers.

Habitat Impacts

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


Bycatch is low because gear used is selective.

  • Availability

    Usually year-round, but currently unavailable because the fishery is closed

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from Washington to California.

  • Taste

    When fresh, small sardines have a delicate flavor. Larger sardines have a fuller, oilier flavor, similar to anchovies but milder. If buying fresh, look for sardines with bright eyes, shiny skin, and a mildly fishy aroma. Plan to cook them within a day of purchase.

  • Texture

    Firm when canned; soft when fresh.

  • Color

    Pale red to off-white.

  • Health Benefits

    Sardines are a very good source of selenium and vitamin B12 and a good source of calcium, niacin, phosphorus, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The U.S. Fishery


  • The fishery was closed in 2015, and has not reopened.
  • In 2014, more than 23,000 metric tons were harvested and were valued at $8.85 million.
  • Round haul nets are used to catch Pacific sardines.
  • Habitat and bycatch impacts are minimal because the gear is used at the surface around dense schools of fish, which usually contain only one species.

The Science

Population Status

  • According to the 2019 stock assessment, Pacific sardine are overfished, and are not subject to overfishing.
  • The population size varies naturally, which can lead to large fluctuations (boom-bust cycles) in abundance and catch.
  • A precautionary measure is built into sardine management to stop directed fishing when the population falls below 150,000 metric tons. The latest population estimate is below that level, and managers have closed the fishery.


  • Southeastern Alaska to Baja California, Mexico.


  • Pacific sardines live in the water column in nearshore and offshore areas along the coast.
  • They are sometimes found in estuaries.
  • They form large, dense schools near the ocean surface.
  • Pacific sardines move seasonally along the coast.
    • Older adults may move from spawning grounds in southern California and northern Baja California to feeding/spawning grounds off the Pacific Northwest and Canada.
    • Younger adults appear to migrate to feeding grounds primarily in central and northern California.

Physical Description

  • Pacific sardines are small.
  • They are blue-green on the back and have white flanks with one to three sets of dark spots along the middle.


  • Pacific sardines are fast growing and can grow to more than 12 inches long.
  • They can live up to 13 years, but usually not past 5.
  • They reproduce at age 1 or 2, depending on conditions.
  • Pacific sardines spawn multiple times per season.
  • Females release eggs that are fertilized externally and hatch in about 3 days.
  • Pacific sardines feed on plankton (tiny floating plants and animals).
  • They are prey for many fish, marine mammals, and seabirds.


Last updated: 05/13/2020