Northern Anchovy

The Science

When anchovies swim with their mouths open, they are feeding on plankton in the water. [3]

The Fishery

A large distribution helps to stabilize the anchovy population. [6]

The Seafood

Anchovies can mistake the smell of plastic for food, which can in turn be harmful for human consumption. [8]

The Science

school of anchovy
Allie Caulfield: August 20, 2011

Taxonomic description

  • Small and thin- typically grow up to seven inches. [1, 2, 3]
  • Have a large mouth and a long, protruding snout. [1,2]
  • Blue-green color on top, and lustrous silver below. [1,2,4]
  • Adults have a silver stripe along their side. [1,2]


  • Found along the West Coast of North America from British Columbia down to the Baja California, Mexico, as well as the Gulf of California. [4, 5]
  • In the United States, this species is subdivided into two populations, one sub-population off of Oregon and Washington and the other ranging from California to Baja, California. [1,2]

Life history

  • It has a short life cycle- can spawn at two years and live four to seven years. [1,2,4]
  • It has a naturally high mortality rate, 45-55% of populations die of natural causes a year. [1,2]
  • It spawns year-round, but most frequently in the winter and spring. [2,4,6]
  • The eggs are released in batches every 7-10 days, and hatching depends on the temperature of the water- typically between 2-4 days. [2,4]
  • This species fertilizes through broadcast spawning. [4]


  • It lives in pelagic areas, usually within 30km from the shore. [6]
  • It is a critical aspect of the food web. [1,4]
    • It serves as food for many species of fish, marine mammals, and birds. [4]
    • It is a host of endoparasites. [4]
    • Its predators include albacore and chub mackerel. [4]
  • For protection against predators, this species forms schools. [4]
  • Though it is a filter feeder, it uses scent to find prey. [8] 
    • A study has concluded that it can mistake the smell of plastics smells for food. [8]

The Fishery

fishing vessel with net
Robert Brigham/NOAA fisheries collection

Seasonal availability

  • Available year-round. [1]

Regulatory and managing authority

  • Managed by NOAA Fisheries and Pacific Fishery Management Council. [1]
  • Under the Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan. [1]
  • Federal and state agencies coordinate so that regulations are consistent. [1]

Gear type

  • This fish is predominantly caught with purse seines, but also with lampara nets. [6,9]

Status of the fishery

  • Population levels are unknown, but thought to be abundant. [1,4]
  • Stock assessments are not done on subpopulations, but data to help monitor populations has been collected. [1]
  • Both northern and central sub-populations have defined overfishing limits. [1]
  • The population is considered to be stable and of least concern by IUCN Red List. [4,6]
  • Its large distribution, including in Marine Protected Areas, mitigates threat. [6]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Because the gear uses functions near the surface, there is minimal habitat destruction. [1]

The Seafood

Fried anchovy

Edible portions

  • The entire body can be eaten after removing the head and guts. [7]
  • The bones are also edible. [7]

Description of meat

  • Fresh anchovies are soft, canned anchovies are firm. [2]
  • The color of the meat depends on the way it is being used:
    • Due to salt-curing, canned anchovies are light red. [2]
    • Fresh is gray when raw, off-white when cooked. [2]

Culinary uses

  • It can be eaten fresh, but is most commonly preserved in cans or jars. [10,11] 
  • It is commonly used in sauces and dressings, such as Caesar salad dressing. [10]
  • This fish can be easily fried, as shown above. [7]
  • Uses and recipe information can be found on FoodNetwork source. [11]

Nutritional information 

  • Nutrition facts given are for a 100-gram serving. [2]
  • Good source of calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, and selenium. [2]
  • High in cholesterol. [2]

Toxicity report

  • Because anchovies are filter feeders, it is important to make sure the guts are removed, and the fish is rinsed. [7]
  • Anchovies mistaking plastic for food can in turn be harmful for human consumption. [8]

Seasonal availability

  • Year round. [2]


[1] NOAA Fisheries. Northern Anchovy. Web. Accessed: 29 November 2018

[2] FishWatch. 2017. Northern Anchovy. Web. Accessed: 29 November 2018 

[3] Monterey Bay Aquarium. 2018. Northern anchovy. Web. Accessed: 29 November 2018

[4] Davis, T., E. DelaTorre, and A. Raub. Year. Animal Diversity Web: Northern Anchovy. Web. Accessed: 29 November 2018 

[5] Oceana. Northern Anchovy. Web. Accessed: 29 November 2018

[6]Iwamoto, T., Eschmeyer, W., Alvarado, J. 2010. Engraulis mordax. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Web. Accessed: 29 November 2018 

[7] FreshCatch. Northern Anchovy. Web. Accessed: 6 December 2018 

[8] Savoca, Matthew. 2017. Bait and Switch: Anchovies Eat Plastic Because It Smells Like Prey. Web. Accessed: 7 December 2018 

[9] Environmental Defense Fund. Year. EDF Seafood Selector. Web. Accessed: 7 December 2018

[10] Busch, Sandi. 2018. What Are the Health Benefits of Anchovies. Web. Accessed: 10 January 2019

[11] Hirsch, J.M. 2011. Off the Beaten Aisle: Anchovies. Web. Accessed: 10 January 2019