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 — Bay of Biscay
Stock detail — 8a-b, d
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) - Suspended
Picture of Sardine, European pilchard, sardines

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Updated: December 2019.

This stock is in a good state but fishing pressure is above sustainable limits, and has been in all but one year since 2014. There is no management plan in place or Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for this stock. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for the Bay of Biscay purse seine sardine fishery was suspended in March 2019 owing to concerns that there were significant levels of overfishing. Excessive fishing pressure poses a risk to sardines as they can experience large fluctuations in stock size over very short timeframes. While the levels of overfishing are now thought to be much lower, and the Bay of Biscay sardine stock remains healthy, management does not appear to be adequately controlling the fishery: catches have exceeded the advice by an average of 35% since 2014 (average advice has been around 30,400 tonnes while average catch has been around 40,900 tonnes). While there are no official quotas or catch limits, some countries set their own management in order to sustain market price - but this is not enough to control total catches.

Approximately 75% of this stock is caught by purse seine fisheries. As sardines are pelagic, there is little impact on the seabed and discards are considered to be negligible.

Biology

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

Bay of Biscay

Stock information

Bay of Biscay sardines are not in an overfished state, but they are subject to overfishing and have been for several years.

According to an updated ICES stock assessment released in January 2020, the biomass of this stock in 2019 was 100,828 tonnes - 1.3 times MSY Btrigger (78,700 tonnes). Recruitment of young fish (age 0) into the fishery fluctuates widely, with the 2019 figure estimated to be the highest since 2000, and the 2020 figure projected to decline to around average. Fishing pressure has been above Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY, 0.453) since 2014 (except for in 2015) and in 2018 was 0.51 - 1.13 times FMSY but below Fpa (0.539) and Flim (0.757). In the 2019 assessment (which, as mentioned, was updated in early 2020) the reference points for this stock were changed, changing the perception of the fishing pressure, which now appears to be exceeding FMSY by a much smaller margin.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 34,905 tonnes. This is a 56% increase on the previous year’s advice, owing to the new assessment methodology and changed reference points. No official quotas are set for this stock, and landings have historically exceeded the advice set by ICES.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

There is no management plan or Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for this stock. This stock is fished by fleets from France, Spain and Portugal. Some fisheries have set their own local management in order to sustain market prices which imply targeting fish of certain sizes and limits to the total amount of catch. In recent years (since 2011), Spanish catches have increased, mainly due to an increase in fishing effort, taking into account the low level of Iberian sardine stock in 8c and some monthly closures of the southern fishery.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 34,905 tonnes. This is a 56% increase on the previous year’s advice, owing to the new assessment methodology and changed reference points. Catches have exceeded the advice by an average of 35% since 2014 (average advice has been around 30,400 tonnes while average catch has been around 40,900 tonnes). However, in 2018 the catch (32,299 tonnes) was only 6% above the advice (30,759 tonnes), and was the lowest catch since 2011.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for the Bay of Biscay purse seine sardine fishery was suspended in March 2019, following ICES advice to reduce fishing effort in July 2018. While the Bay of Biscay sardine stock remains healthy, MSC considered fishing stock to be significantly above the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). Excessive fishing pressure poses a risk to sardines as they can experience large fluctuations in stock size over very short timeframes. However, reference points have since changed and fishing pressure now appears to be lower, although still above sustainable levels. However, with catches exceeding advice, fishing pressure above sustainable levels in all but one year since 2014, and no catch limits in force, management does not appear to be adequately controlling the fishery.


In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.
The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota ‘uplift’ being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.
Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels.
The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.
The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

Approximately 75% of this stock is captured by purse seine fisheries and 25% by pelagic trawl. Purse seiners are mainly targeting sardine, anchovy, and chub mackerel in the ecoregion. This fishery compromises 58 Spanish purse seine vessels targeting the European sardine. The sardines caught in this fishery are mostly 10 and 20 cm in size, with the smaller size being well suited to the cannery market, and the larger size to the fresh fish market. Fishing season takes place from the 1st of January to the 30th of April and from the 1st of September to the 31st of December.

Purse seining is a method that targets whole shoals of fish. A large part of a typical fishing trip is spent searching for schools with echo sounders and sonar. Once schools of pelagic fish have been detected, large nets (up to 800m long and 150m deep) are set rapidly with the help of a small auxiliary vessel. The net is deployed in such a way that it encircles the shoal. The lead line is then drawn closed by the purse wire, which draws the base of the net together preventing the fish from escaping. Catches using this method can be so large that the net is too heavy to bring aboard and the fish are scooped out of the main net using hand-nets, or more typically, pumped aboard via flexible pipes or hoses. Purse-seiners have low bycatch of non-target species. Targeting shoaling species with this method is usually very selective in terms of species, but less so in terms of size.

Sardine distribution is restricted to coastal shelf waters, mainly at depths above 150m. As sardines are pelagic, there is little impact on the seabed. Discarding is considered to be negligible. Cetacean interactions are monitored by on-board observers and found to have low impact, however seabird and turtle bycatch is unknown. Pelagic crabs are encountered but released alive.

Alternatives

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
Mackerel
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
Swordfish
Trout, Rainbow
Tuna, albacore
Tuna, skipjack
Tuna, yellowfin

References

ICES. 2019. Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast Ecosystem - Fisheries Overview. In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, section 5.2. 31 pp. Available at https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5709 [Accessed on 19.02.2020].

ICES. 2019. Sardine (Sardina pilchardus) in divisions 8.a-b and 8.d (Bay of Biscay). Version 2: 16 January 2020. In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, pil.27.8abd. Available at https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5764. [Accessed on 28.02.2020].

ICES. 2019. Stock Annex: Sardine in divisions 8abd. Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Stock%20Annexes/2019/pil.27.8abd_SA.pdf [Accessed on 19.02.2020].

Bureau Veritas Certification Holding SAS. 2019. Bay of Biscay Purse Seine Sardine Fishery. Second Surveillance Report. Available at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/bay-of-biscay-purse-seine-sardine-fishery/@@assessments [Accessed on 19.02.2020].