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 — 8.a-b and d
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Sardine, European pilchard, sardines

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) for this stock is above healthy levels. However fishing mortality increased steeply in 2010-2012 and has been above FMSY since then. The purse seine fishery in the Bay of Biscay was certified to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard as an environmentally responsible fishery in 2017 and is the best choice for sardine from this area.


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: 0.75 info

Stock Area

Bay of Biscay

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.
The Spawning stock biomass (SSB) is above MSY Btrigger. Fishing mortality steeply increased in 2010-2012 and has been above FMSY but below Flim since then. Recruitment has been variable over time. Recruitment in 2016 and 2017 is above the time-series average.
ICES assesses that fishing pressure on the stock is above FMSY and between Fpa and Flim; and Spawning stock size is above MSY Btrigger, Bpa and Blim.
ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2019 should be no more than 22 410 tonnes (30 579 tonnes in 2018).


Criterion score: 0 info

The purse seine fishery in the Bay of Biscay is certified (2017) to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard as an environmentally responsible fishery.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

Most catches in this area are taken by purse-seiners (83%) and pelagic trawlers (17%). Discards are negligible. 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 2018. ICES Advice on fishing opportunities, catch, and effort Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Coast Ecoregion. Published 13 July 2018. Available at: (Accessed July 2018)