Sardine, European pilchard, sardines

Sardina pilchardus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Purse seine
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Southern Celtic Seas and English Channel
Stock detail — Subarea 7.
Picture of Sardine, European pilchard, sardines

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

The state of the stock with respect to reference points in these waters is unknown and scientific advice is to reduce catches by at least 20%.


Pilchard is a pelagic shoaling fish and a member of the herring family. It is widely distributed in European seas, reaching the northward limit of its range in the vicinity of the British Isles, in depths ranging between 10-100m (usually 25-55m by day, rising to 10-35m at night). Schools of juvenile fish tend to be separated from adults and are found closer inshore, typically associated with estuaries and rivers. Pilchards usually mature at a length of around 15 cm. Young pilchard are often referred to as sardine. They spawn in batches in spring and summer in the open sea or near the coast, producing 50-60,000 eggs with a mean diameter of 1.5 mm. After spawning, they migrate northwards to their feeding grounds and are then found inshore in coastal waters. In winter they migrate southwards. Pilchards usually have a length of 20cm, maximum is about 27cm. Maximum reported age is 15 years. Food is mainly planktonic in the spring and autumn; copepods and crustacean in the summer.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Stock Area

Southern Celtic Seas and English Channel

Stock information

Sardine in this area was previously assessed as a single stock combining Subarea 7 (English Channel and Celtic Sea) and divisions 8.a, 8.b, and 8.d (Bay of Biscay). Because there are indications of self-sustaining populations in each area and limited and poor quality data available for Subarea 7 recent benchmarking of the stock concluded that it is more appropriate to assess sardine in each area separately. There is currently no biomass or recruitment index for the whole of Subarea 7. The only available index comes from a survey that partially covers divisions 7.e and 7.f and is not considered sufficient to evaluate the stock biomass and exploitation status. The stock status relative to reference points and catch, landings and discard data is unknown. ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches in each of the years 2018 and 2019 should be reduced by at least 20% relative to the average catches of 2014-2016. ICES is not able to quantify the corresponding catch value.


Criterion score: 0.75 info

The use of ring-nets in the Cornwall Inshore Fishery Conservation Area (IFCA) district to primarily target sardines (Sardina pilchardus), now commonly known as Cornish sardines, was re-established in the early 1990s. The fleet of commercial fishing vessels using ring-nets has gradually grown in both numbers and size of the vessels. Consequently, the overall annual catches of sardines has grown from around 2000 tonnes in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 fishing seasons, gradually rising to 6740 tonnes in the 2016/17 season. Other pelagic species including herring, mackerel and anchovies are also caught and landed from these vessels, usually as a bycatch. However, if large amounts of anchovies are known to be present in Cornwall or Devon waters, they will often become the focus of fishing, as they command a far higher price than the other pelagic species. The anchovy catch from ring-netters in 2016-17 amounted to 139 tonnes.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

Most catches are taken by purse-seiners and pelagic trawlers. Discards are unknown, but the available information suggests they are low. Purse-seines have low bycatch of non-target species - when targeting sardine, the catches are virtually all sardine. Observer data and interview surveys of fishers also indicate a low impact on marine mammals, seabirds, and turtles. Because purse-seiners operate in open waters, there is little impact on the seabed.


Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Anchovy, anchovies
Arctic char
Herring or sild
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chinook, King Salmon
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Coho , Silver, White
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
Trout, Rainbow
Tuna, albacore
Tuna, bigeye
Tuna, skipjack
Tuna, yellowfin


ICES. 2017. Report of the Working Group on Southern Horse Mackerel, Anchovy and Sardine (WGHANSA), 24-29 June 2017, Bilbao, Spain. ICES CM 2017/ACOM:17. 640 pp. Available at:,%20Anchovy%20and%20Sardine%20-%20WGHANSA%202017.pdf (Accessed July 2018)
ICES 2017. ICES Advice on fishing opportunities, catch, and effort Celtic Seas Ecoregion. Published 14 July 2017. Available at: (Accessed July 2018)