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Temporal range: Early Eocene to present
Californian anchovy (Engraulis mordax)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Clupeiformes
Suborder: Clupeoidei
Superfamily: Engrauloidea
Family: Engraulidae
Gill, 1861
Subfamilies & genera[1]

See text

An anchovy is a small, common forage fish of the family Engraulidae. Most species are found in marine waters, but several will enter brackish water, and some in South America are restricted to fresh water.[2]

More than 140 species are placed in 17 genera; they are found in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, and in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Anchovies are usually classified as oily fish.[3]


Life restoration of the extinct "saber-toothed anchovy" Monosmilus

The earliest known fossil records of anchovy relatives are of large predatory stem-anchovies (Clupeopsis and Monosmilus) from the early and middle Eocene of the Tethys Ocean, in Belgium and Pakistan.[4] The large fangs of these early anchovy relatives has led to the nickname "saber-toothed anchovies" (not to be confused with the extant Lycengraulis species).[5] The earliest record of a true anchovy is of the stem-engrauline Eoengraulis from the Early Eocene of Monte Bolca, Italy.[6]


The following anchovy taxa are known:


Genera in the family Engraulidae
Genera Species Comment Genera Species Comment
Amazonsprattus 1 Anchoa 35
Anchovia 3 Anchoviella 4
Cetengraulis 2 Coilia 13
Encrasicholina 5 Engraulis 9 Type genus, containing all commercially significant species.
Jurengraulis 1 Lycengraulis 4
Lycothrissa 1 Papuengraulis 1
Pseudosetipinna 1 Pterengraulis 1
Setipinna 8 Stolephorus 20
Thryssa 24


European anchovy, Engraulis encrasicolus

Anchovies are small, green fish with blue reflections due to a silver-colored longitudinal stripe that runs from the base of the caudal (tail) fin. They range from 2 to 40 centimetres (1 to 15+12 inches) in adult length,[7] and their body shapes are variable with more slender fish in northern populations.

The snout is blunt with tiny, sharp teeth in both jaws. The snout contains a unique rostral organ, believed to be electro-sensory in nature, although its exact function is unknown.[8][9] The mouth is larger than that of herrings and silversides, two fish which anchovies closely resemble in other respects. The anchovy eats plankton and recently hatched fish.


Anchovies are found in scattered areas throughout the world's oceans, but are concentrated in temperate waters, and are rare or absent in very cold or very warm seas. They are generally very accepting of a wide range of temperatures and salinity. Large schools can be found in shallow, brackish areas with muddy bottoms, as in estuaries and bays.

The European anchovy is abundant in the Mediterranean, particularly in the Alboran Sea,[10] Aegean Sea and the Black Sea. This species is regularly caught along the coasts of Crete, Greece, Sicily, Italy, France, Turkey, Northern Iran, Portugal and Spain. They are also found on the coast of northern Africa. The range of the species also extends along the Atlantic coast of Europe to the south of Norway. Spawning occurs between October and March, but not in water colder than 12 °C (54 °F). The anchovy appears to spawn at least 100 kilometres (55 nautical miles) from the shore, near the surface of the water.


The anchovy is a significant food source for almost every predatory fish in its environment, including the California halibut, rock fish, yellowtail, shark, chinook, and coho salmon. It is also extremely important to marine mammals and birds; for example, breeding success of California brown pelicans[11] and elegant terns is strongly connected to anchovy abundance.

Feeding behavior[edit]

Anchovies, like most clupeoids (herrings, sardines and anchovies), are filter-feeders that open their mouths as they swim. As water passes through the mouth and out the gills, food particles are sieved by gill rakers and transferred into the esophagus.[12]

Commercial species[edit]

Commercially significant species
Common name Scientific name Maximum
European anchovy* Engraulis encrasicolus (Linnaeus, 1758) 20.0 cm (8 in) 13.5 cm (5+12 in)[13] 49 g (1+34 oz) 5 years 3.11 [14] [15] [16] LC IUCN 3 1.svg Least concern[17]
Argentine anchoita Engraulis anchoita (Hubbs & Marini, 1935) 17.0 cm (6+12 in) 10.0 cm (4 in) 25 g (78 oz) ? years 2.51 [18] [19] [20] LC IUCN 3 1.svg Least concern[21]
Californian anchovy Engraulis mordax (Girard, 1856) 24.8 cm (10 in) 15.0 cm (6 in) 68 g (2+38 oz) 7 years 2.96 [22] [23] [24] LC IUCN 3 1.svg Least concern[25]
Japanese anchovy Engraulis japonicus (Temminck & Schlegel, 1846) 18.0 cm (7 in) 14.0 cm (5+12 in) 45 g (1+58 oz) 4 years 2.60 [26] [27] [28] LC IUCN 3 1.svg Least concern[29]
Peruvian anchoveta Engraulis ringens (Jenyns, 1842) 20.0 cm (8 in) 14.0 cm (5+12 in) ? g 3 years 2.70 [30] [31] [32] LC IUCN 3 1.svg Least concern[33]
Southern African anchovy Engraulis capensis (Gilchrist, 1913) 17.0 cm (6+12 in) 11.0 cm (4+12 in) ((Linf+Lm)/2) ? g ? years 2.80 [34] [35] [36] LC IUCN 3 1.svg Least concern[37]

* Type species


Global capture of anchovy in tonnes reported by the FAO
Capture of all anchovy reported by the FAO (green indicates Peruvian anchoveta)[38]
↑  Peruvian anchoveta 1950–2010[38]
↑  Other anchovy 1950–2010[38]
Global commercial capture of anchovy in million tonnes 1950–2010[38]

Black Sea[edit]

On average, the Turkish commercial fishing fleet catches around 300,000 tons per year, mainly in winter. The largest catch is in November and December.[39]


Peruvian anchoveta (E. ringens), one of the most commercially important fish species

The Peruvian anchovy fishery is one of the largest in the world, far exceeding catches of the other anchovy species.

In 1972, it collapsed catastrophically due to the combined effects of overfishing and El Niño[40] and did not fully recover for two decades.

As food[edit]

Still Life with Anchovies, 1972, Antonio Sicurezza

A traditional method of processing and preserving anchovies is to gut and salt them in brine, allow them to cure, and then pack them in oil or salt. This results in a characteristic strong flavor and the flesh turning a deep grey. Pickled in vinegar, as with Spanish boquerones, anchovies are milder and the flesh retains a white color. In Roman times, anchovies were the base for the fermented fish sauce garum. Garum had a sufficiently long shelf life for long-distance commerce, and was produced in industrial quantities. Anchovies were also eaten raw as an aphrodisiac.[41]

Today, they are used in small quantities to flavor many dishes. Because of the strong flavor, they are also an ingredient in several sauces and condiments, including Worcestershire sauce, caesar salad dressing, remoulade, Gentleman's Relish, many fish sauces, and in some versions of Café de Paris butter. For domestic use, anchovy fillets are packed in oil or salt in small tins or jars, sometimes rolled around capers. Anchovy paste is also available. Fishermen also use anchovies as bait for larger fish, such as tuna and sea bass.[42]

The strong taste people associate with anchovies is due to the curing process. Fresh anchovies, known in Italy as alici, have a much milder flavor.[43] The anchovies from Barcola (in the local dialect: sardoni barcolani) are particularly popular. These white fleshy fish, which are only found at Sirocco in the Gulf of Trieste, achieve the highest prices.[44]

In Sweden and Finland, the name "anchovies" is related strongly to a traditional seasoning, hence the product "anchovies" is normally made of sprats[45] and herring can be sold as "anchovy-spiced". Fish from the family Engraulidae are instead known as sardell in Sweden and sardelli in Finland, leading to confusion when translating recipes.

In Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, they are deep-fried and eaten as a snack or a side dish. They are known as ikan bilis in Malay, ikan teri in Indonesian and dilis in Filipino.[46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nelson, Joseph S.; Grande, Terry C.; Wilson, Mark V. H. (2016). Fishes of the World (5th ed.). John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-118-34233-6.
  2. ^ Loeb, M.V. (2012). "A new species of Anchoviella Fowler, 1911 (Clupeiformes: Engraulidae) from the Amazon basin, Brazil". Neotropical Ichthyology. 10 (1): 13–18. doi:10.1590/s1679-62252012000100002.
  3. ^ "What's an oily fish?". Food Standards Agency. 2004-06-24. Archived from the original on 2010-12-10. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
  4. ^ a b c Capobianco, Alessio; Beckett, Hermione T.; Steurbaut, Etienne; Gingerich, Philip D.; Carnevale, Giorgio; Friedman, Matt (2020). "Large-bodied sabre-toothed anchovies reveal unanticipated ecological diversity in early Palaeogene teleosts". Royal Society Open Science. 7 (5): 192260. Bibcode:2020RSOS....792260C. doi:10.1098/rsos.192260. ISSN 2054-5703. PMC 7277248. PMID 32537214.
  5. ^ "Meter-long saber-toothed anchovies roamed the seas around 50 million years ago | U-M LSA Museum of Paleontology". Retrieved 2024-04-19.
  6. ^ a b Marramà, Giuseppe; Carnevale, Giorgio (2016). "An Eocene anchovy from Monte Bolca, Italy: The earliest known record for the family Engraulidae". Geological Magazine. 153 (1): 84–94. doi:10.1017/S0016756815000278. ISSN 0016-7568.
  7. ^ Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2008). "Engraulidae" in FishBase. December 2008 version.
  8. ^ Bemis, William E.; Hetherington, Thomas E. (28 May 1982). "The Rostal Organ of Latimeria chalumnae: Morphological Evidence of an Electroreceptive Function". Copeia. 1982 (2): 467. doi:10.2307/1444635. JSTOR 1444635.
  9. ^ Nelson, Gareth (1998). Paxton, J.R.; Eschmeyer, W.N. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Fishes. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 94–95. ISBN 978-0-12-547665-2.
  10. ^ C.Michael Hogan. 2011. Alboran Sea. eds. P.Saundry & C.J.Cleveland. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC
  11. ^ Anderson, Daniel W.; Gress, Franklin; Mais, Kenneth F.; Kelly, Paul R. (1980). North, Nance (ed.). "Brown pelicans as anchovy stock indicators and their relationships to commercial fishing" (PDF). CalCOFIs Reports. 21. California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations: 55. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-12-23. Retrieved 2011-12-04. Pelican reproductive rate ... depends largely on levels of anchovy abundance and availability.
  12. ^ Bone, Q., & Marshall, N. (1982). Biology of fishes. Glasgow: Blackie.
  13. ^ Engraulis encrasicolus (Linnaeus, 1758) European anchovy, In: 2021
  14. ^ Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2012). "Engraulis encrasicolus" in FishBase. April 2012 version.
  15. ^ Engraulis encrasicolus (Linnaeus, 1758) FAO, Species Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 2012.
  16. ^ "Engraulis encrasicolus". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
  17. ^ Tous, P.; Sidibé, A.; Mbye, E.; de Morais, L.; Camara, Y.H.; Adeofe, T.A.; Monroe, T.; Camara, K.; Cissoko, K.; Djiman, R.; Sagna, A.; Sylla, M.; Carpenter, K.E. (2015). "Engraulis encrasicolus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2015: e.T198568A15546291. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T198568A15546291.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  18. ^ Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2012). "Engraulis anchoita" in FishBase. April 2012 version.
  19. ^ Engraulis anchoita (Hubbs & Marini, 1935) FAO, Species Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 2012.
  20. ^ "Engraulis anchoita". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
  21. ^ Buratti, C.; Díaz de Astarloa, J.; Hüne, M.; Irigoyen, A.; Landaeta, M.; Riestra, C.; Vieira, J.P.; Di Dario, F. (2020). "Engraulis anchoita". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020: e.T195023A159405500. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T195023A159405500.en. Retrieved 20 November 2021.
  22. ^ Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2012). "Engraulis mordax" in FishBase. April 2012 version.
  23. ^ Engraulis mordax (Girard, 1856) FAO, Species Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 2012.
  24. ^ "Engraulis mordax". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
  25. ^ Iwamoto, T.; Eschmeyer, W. & Alvarado, J. (2010). "Engraulis mordax". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2010: e.T183856A8189272. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2010-3.RLTS.T183856A8189272.en.
  26. ^ Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2012). "Engraulis japonicus" in FishBase. April 2012 version.
  27. ^ Engraulis japonicus (Temminck & Schlegel, 1846) FAO, Species Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 2012.
  28. ^ "Engraulis japonicus". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
  29. ^ Di Dario, F. (2019) [errata version of 2018 assessment]. "Engraulis japonicus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T98969433A143841777. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T98969433A143841777.en.
  30. ^ Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2012). "Engraulis ringens" in FishBase. April 2012 version.
  31. ^ Engraulis ringens (Jenyns, 1842) FAO, Species Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 2012.
  32. ^ "Engraulis ringens". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
  33. ^ Di Dario, F.; Hüne, M.; Pérez-Matus, A. & Vega, R. (2021). "Engraulis ringens". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2021: e.T183775A102904317. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-1.RLTS.T183775A102904317.en.
  34. ^ Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2012). "Engraulis capensis" in FishBase. April 2012 version.
  35. ^ Engraulis capensis (Gilchrist, 1913) FAO, Species Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 2012.
  36. ^ "Engraulis capensis". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
  37. ^ Di Dario, F. (2019) [errata version of 2018 assessment]. "Engraulis capensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T98962403A143841628. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T98962403A143841628.en.
  38. ^ a b c d Based on data sourced from the relevant FAO Species Fact Sheets
  39. ^ "Turkish Black Sea Acoustic Surveys: Winter distribution of anchovy along the Turkish coast" (PDF). Middle East Technical University Institute of Marine Sciences.
  40. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-12-03. Retrieved 2015-11-17.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  41. ^ "Tacitus: Germania".
  42. ^ Walford L. A. (1945) Fishery Resources of the United States of America, page 26, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  43. ^ "White Anchovy Fillets (Boquerones)".
  44. ^ Georges Desrues "Eine Lange Nacht am Meer", In: Triest - Servus Magazin (2020), p 73.
  45. ^ "Food: First catch your anchovies". The Independent. 22 November 1997. Archived from the original on 2009-07-14.
  46. ^ Benayoun, Mike (2017-07-03). "Dilis". 196 flavors. Retrieved 2022-08-19.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]