Anchovy, European anchovy

Engraulis encrasicolus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Purse seine
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Bay of Biscay
Stock detail — 8
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Anchovy, European anchovy

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: October 2020.

Stocks of small pelagics, like anchovy and sardine, are highly influenced by natural recruitment variability and are therefore prone to periodic collapses linked to oceanographic variability.

The Bay of Biscay anchovy fishery closed between July 2005 and June 2010 due to very low stock abundance. The closure led to an increase in the abundance of older fish and spawning-stock biomass, which has been above precautionary levels since 2010. The spawning biomass is now the highest ever-recorded, and has full reproductive capacity. A reference point against which to assess fishing pressure is not defined but appears to be below possible reference points, and is below the long-term average harvest rate. European anchovy has a medium resilience to fishing pressure.

The fisheries targeting the Bay of Biscay anchovy are managed through Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and technical measures such as gear and vessel specifications, minimum conservation reference size and closed areas. Since the reopening of the fishery in 2010, catches have been increasing in accordance with advice and TAC agreed. An EU management strategy is in place for this stock and considered precautionary.

Purse seiners are a selective fishing gear with little to no impact on the seabed, as nets do not regularly make contact with the seafloor. Bycatch of non-target species and those considered Endangered, Threatened or Protected (ETP) do not appear to be significant. The main threat posed by the fishery to ETP species may be a reduction in food availability. Anchovy is a species at or near the base of the food chain and the impact of their large-scale removal on the marine ecosystem is poorly understood.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has certified the Cantabrian Sea Purse Seine Anchovy Fishery as a sustainably managed fishery since 2015. This fishery no longer has any Conditions of Certification. However, one non-binding recommendation has been issued relating to improvements in terms of consistency, homogeneity and quality of ETP species data collected at sea.


Anchovy is the only European member of the Engraulidae family. A relative of the herring, it is a small, short-lived fish, generally living less than three years although it can live up to four years. The European anchovy is mainly a coastal marine species, forming large schools. It tolerates salinities of 5-41 ppt and can be found as deep as 400m. Average length at maturity is 13.5 cm, although it can reach 20 cm. Spawning occurs over an extended period from April to November, with peaks usually in the warmest months (June to August in the southern North Sea and the Channel, and April to September in the Mediterranean); the limits of the spawning season are dependent on temperature and thus the season is more restricted in northern areas. It is found in the East Atlantic, and although anchovy can be found as far north as Norway and as far south as South Africa, it is more commonly found in the Mediterranean and off the Atlantic coast of Portugal, Spain and France. It tends to move further north and into surface waters in summer, retreating and descending into deeper waters in winter. It feeds on planktonic organisms, especially calanoid copepods, cirrepede and mollusk larvae, and fish eggs and larvae. Anchovies are prey for other fish and marine mammals.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

This is a data limited stock. Spawning biomass appears to be at very healthy levels and fishing pressure below possible reference points. European anchovy has a medium resilience to fishing pressure.

Stocks of small pelagics like anchovy and sardine are highly influenced by natural recruitment variability and are therefore prone to periodic collapses linked to oceanographic variability.

ICES assesses that the spawning-stock size is above the limit biomass reference point (Blim). Reference points for MSY Btrigger and Bpa have not been defined for this stock. No reference points have been defined for fishing pressure as ICES does not use F reference points to determine exploitation status for short-lived species.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has been above Blim (21,000 tonnes) since 2010. In 2019, SSB was assessed as the highest in the historical series (144,834 tonnes: mid-May), significantly above the SSB management plan reference points (SSBmgt: 24,000 tonnes (lower trigger); 89,000 tonnes (upper trigger)) and almost seven times the value of Blim. SSB in 2020 is estimated to be 39% lower than that in 2019. Recruitment has been mostly above the long-term average since 2010 but is estimated to be below average in 2020. Harvest rates have been below the long-term average since the reopening of the fishery in 2010.

ICES advises that when the EU management strategy is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 31,892 tonnes. The advice for 2020 is 3% lower than the advice for 2019, because of an expected lower SSB in 2020.

European anchovy inhabiting the Atlantic waters were separated into two distinct stock units; one distributed in the Bay of Biscay and the other distributed in Atlantic Iberian waters (Spanish Southern Galicia, Portuguese coast and Spanish waters of the Gulf of Cadiz).


Criterion score: 0 info

There are management measures in place for this fishery, which are precautionary and effective in managing the stock.

An EU management strategy is in place for this stock. A set of harvest control rules were evaluated by the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries in 2013 and 2014. The European Commission requested that ICES provided its advice in 2015 according to one of these rules, and according to a different one since 2016. ICES considers the harvest control rule selected in 2016 to be precautionary, with a 5% probability of the spawning-stock biomass falling below the limit biomass reference point (Blim) in the long-term.

The fisheries targeting the Bay of Biscay anchovy are managed through Total Allowable Catch (TAC) set following the harvest control rule adopted in 2016, and technical measures such as gear and vessels specifications, a minimum conservation reference size, closed areas and seasons. The TAC is shared between France (10%) and Spain (90%).

The fishery closed between July 2005 and June 2010 due to very low stock abundance. Since the reopening of the fishery, catches have been increasing whilst following scientific advice and the TAC has been effectively implemented.

TAC has been in line with that advised by scientists in recent years (2015-19). Except in 2016, initially in accordance with advice and later raised 32% above advised limits. Compliance to the TAC has been high. Actual landings are generally lower than the TAC agreed, last exceeding TAC in 2015 by 13%. In accordance with the management strategy, TAC is set to zero if spawning-stock biomass (SSB) is below the lower trigger, and to 33,000 tonnes if SSB is above the upper trigger. The TAC cap becomes effective if the projected SSB is 89,000 tonnes or larger, which resulted in advised catches for 2019 being capped at the highest level allowed under the management strategy, despite the high SSB.

Discarding is considered negligible.

The Cantabrian Sea Purse Seine Anchovy Fishery is certified as a responsibly managed fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The fishery became the first anchovy fishery in Europe to achieve MSC certification in 2015. Total certified catch accounted for ~38% (12,466 tonnes) of the TAC (33,000 tonnes) in 2018. The fishery has been performing well against all Performance Indicators (i.e. Stock status; Stock rebuilding; Harvest strategy; Harvest control rules and tools; Information and monitoring; Assessment of stock status) and no Conditions of Certification (CoC) were fixed within the reassessment (April 2020). However, a non-binding recommendation has been issued relating to a previously closed CoC, regarding information on Endangered, Threatened or Protected (ETP) species. The recommendation states that ‘there should be an improvement in terms of the consistency, homogeneity and quality of the data collected at sea’.

Both the EU and UK have fishery management measures in place, which can include catch limits, targets for population sizes and fishing mortality, and controls on what fishing gear can be used and where. In the EU, compliance with regulations has been variable, and there are ongoing challenges with implementing some of them. There was a target for fishing to be at Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2020, but this was not achieved. The Landing Obligation (LO), an EU law that the UK has kept after Brexit, requires all fish and shellfish to be landed, even if they are unwanted (over-quota or below minimum size). It aims to promote more selective fishing methods, reduce bycatch, and improve recording of everything that is caught, not just what is wanted. Compliance with the LO is generally poor and actual levels of discards are difficult to quantify using the current fisheries observer programme.

In the UK, it is too early to tell how effective management is, as the Fisheries Act only came into force in January 2021. The Act requires the development of Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) (replacing EU Multi-Annual Plans) but there are no details yet on how and when these will be developed. FMPs have the potential to be very important tools for managing UK fisheries, although data limitations may delay them for some stocks. MCS is keen to see FMPs for all commercially exploited stocks, especially where stocks are depleted, that include:
Targets for fishing pressure and biomass, and additional management when those targets are not being met
Timeframes for stock recovery
Technologies such as Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) to support data collection and improve transparency and accountability
Consideration of wider environmental impacts of the fishery

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

European anchovy is caught by purse seiners in the Bay of Biscay.

The anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) stock in the area has been targeted by the Spanish and French fleets since the 1940s. The Spanish purse-seine fleet is the main fleet targeting anchovy in the Bay of Biscay. In 2018, the anchovy fishery was almost exclusively harvested by purse-seine fleets (98% of total catches), with the remainder harvested by pelagic trawlers (3%). There is little to no impact on ecosystems caused by purse seiners. Bycatch of non-target species and those considered ETP do not appear to be significant. The main impacts to the ecosystems may be the removal of anchovy on the food chain rather than through bycatch.

Anchovy is a small pelagic species, predominantly targeted by seine nets that can reach depths ranging between 80 and 550 m in this fishery. Seine net fisheries are not deemed to significantly impact the seafloor unless used in shallow waters, as nets are generally deployed at greater depths where bottom contact does not occur. To protect shallow coastal zones and benthic habitats, purse seiners can only operate in waters deeper than 35 m depth at low tide, and are prohibited in areas such as the Zumaia biotope. The fishery rarely makes contact with the seafloor and usually operates over the same fishing grounds, over sandy bottoms and in offshore areas, areas that do not contain vulnerable habitats such as cold-water coral reefs or sea fans, minimising possible impacts in benthic communities.

Bycatch of non-target species is low. The purse seine fishery targets a variety of species during the year depending on the season and area (i.e. European pilchard, Sardina pilchardus; European anchovy, Engraulis encrasicolus; Atlantic horse mackerel, Trachurus trachurus; Atlantic chub mackerel, Scomber colias; and Atlantic mackerel, Scomber scombrus). However, vessels targeting anchovy (corresponding to an average of 91.77% of landings in 2016-2018), the main retained species are: Atlantic mackerel (3.32%), European pilchard (2.88%), Atlantic chub mackerel (0.63%) and Atlantic horse mackerel (0.58%).

Although purse seiners are highly mono-specific, they can be associated with cetacean bycatch. Interactions with Endangered, Threatened or Protected (ETP) species are very rare in this fishery and information gathered from observers indicates a low impact. Marine mammals that are caught in a purse-seine are usually released alive using the slipping technique, and the contact with the gear is minimised by the fishers as this can damage the gear and causes substantial costs for fishers. The fishery is known to interact with birds (such as the yellow-legged gull, Larus michahellis), sharks (e.g. blue shark, Prionace glauca; Tope shark, Galeorhinus galeus; and shortfin mako, Isurus oxyrinchus), cetaceans (i.e., Short-beaked common dolphin, Delphinus delphis; Common bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncates; Risso’s dolphin, Grampus griseus; Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae; and Southern right whale, Eubalaena australis), turtles and rays.

The Bay of Biscay encompasses a number of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in place under national legislation, the OSPAR Convention and Natura 2000 for the protection of habitat and species management. MPAs offer important refuges for juvenile populations, seabirds and marine mammals.

The greatest impact of this fishery may be a reduction in food availability, decreasing the availability of anchovy as an important prey for many pelagic and demersal species in the Bay of Biscay, cetaceans, seabirds and other ETP species. Anchovy is a species at or near the base of the food chain and the impact of their large-scale removal on the marine ecosystem is poorly understood.

Developments to improve knowledge on the impacts of the fishery on ETP species is required, specifically relation to gathering and reporting of ETP interactions.

European anchovy is widely distributed along the Atlantic sea coast off Europe and Africa, into the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Aegean and further into the Black Sea. During the daytime, anchovies form small schools aligned 10-25 m above the bottom, which are often vertically separated from other species and, in particular, horse-mackerel (Trachurus trachurus). At night, anchovies are found dispersed in the surface above the thermocline (0-20 m). Anchovies also migrate between the spawning grounds located in the southeast corner of Biscay (mainly December), to the feeding grounds in the northern French shelf (mainly July).


Binohlan, C. and Valdestamon, R. (2020). European Anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus). Available at [Accessed 09.10.2020]

Boyra, G., Duhamel, E., Ibaibarriaga, L., Masse, J., Pawlowski, L., Santos, M. and Uriarte, A. (2013). Stock Annex: Anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) in Subarea 8 (Bay of Biscay). Available at [Accessed 09.10.2020]

ICES (2019). Anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) in Subarea 8 (Bay of Biscay). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, ane.27.8. Available at [Accessed 09.10.2020]

ICES (2019). Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Coast ecoregion – Ecosystem overview. Available at [Accessed 13.10.2020]

ICES (2019). Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast ecoregion – Fisheries overview, including mixed-fisheries considerations. Available at [Accessed 13.10.2020]

ICES (2019). Working Group on Southern Horse Mackerel, Anchovy and Sardine (WGHANSA). ICES Scientific Reports, 1(34), 441pp. Available at [Accessed 15.10.2020]

MSC (2020). Cantabrian Sea purse seine anchovy fishery. Available at [Accessed 13.10.2020]

Quilez-Badia, G., Borges, L. and Ambrosio, L. (2020). CANTABRIAN SEA PURSE SEINE ANCHOVY FISHERY. Public Certification Report Certificate number: MSC-F-31181 Previous Certificate number F-BV-00466, April 2020. Bureau Veritas Certification Holding SAS. Available for download at [Downloaded 15.10.2020]