Anchovy, European anchovy

Engraulis encrasicolus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Purse seine
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Atlantic Iberian waters
Stock detail — 9a: western and southern components
Picture of Anchovy, European anchovy

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: October 2020.

Populations 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.

This is a data limited stock and no reference points exist for biomass or fishing pressure. Biomass appears to be increasing and fishing pressure is below possible reference points for both the southern and western components. European anchovy has a medium resilience to fishing pressure.

Historical fisheries management seems to have been sustainable. However, no management plan exists for the anchovy fisheries in this region and Total Allowable Catch (TAC) routinely exceeds scientific advice. Nonetheless, actual landings are lower than the TAC agreed. Management set TAC for the whole Atlantic Iberian waters, despite separate advice provided for the western and southern components. ICES advice that there should be a provision to protect the smaller component from overexploitation. There are a number of controls in place (minimum landings size, mesh size, seasonal closures etc.) to protect juvenile fish.

Purse seiners are a selective fishing gear, with little to no impact on the seabed, as nets do not make contact with the seafloor. The fishery has low levels of bycatch. There is a lack of information on interactions with ETP species for this fishery. The main threat posed by the fishery to ETP species may be a reduction in food availability.


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

Stock Area

Atlantic Iberian waters

Stock information

This is a data limited stock and no reference points exist for biomass or fishing pressure. A qualitative evaluation of the stock suggests that biomass is increasing and fishing pressure is below possible reference points for both the southern and western components. 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. Subsequently, the state of this resource can change quickly.

There is some uncertainty over the structure of this stock. ICES considers that there are two components of the anchovy stock in the Atlantic Iberian waters (Division 9a): the western component (distributed in North, Central–North, and Central–South) and the southern component (distributed in the South). These components show different dynamics and are therefore assessed separately, after the stock was benchmarked in 2018. Current evidence has not been sufficient so far to gain agreement to modify the stock structure. Until the stock structure along the division is properly identified, the provision of advice will still be given for the whole stock.

The state of the stock and fishery relative to reference points is unknown. A series of official commercial landings data is available but the quality of this is unknown. Information on abundance and exploitation is unavailable. For stocks without information on abundance or exploitation, ICES considers that a precautionary reduction of catches should be implemented.

ICES does not use F reference points to determine exploitation status for short-lived species, therefore, no reference points for fishing pressure have been defined for this stock.

For the western component of the stock, ICES cannot assess the stock and exploitation status relative to maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and precautionary approach (PA) reference points because the reference points are undefined. In 2020, the western component displayed a 63% increase of the survey biomass compared to the mean of the two previous years. The harvest rate fluctuates annually, and has ranged between 0.024 (2008/09) and 1.30 (2014/15). In 2019/20, the harvest rate (0.63) increased from the previous season 2018/19 (0.155) and above the median (0.28) of the historical time-series.

For the southern component of the stock, the assessment is indicative of trends only. The relative spawning–stock biomass (SSB) has been fluctuating without a trend over the time-series. Most of the values, including the last three years (2018-20), are above the precautionary reference point for SSB (Bpa). In 2020, the southern component displayed a 98% increase in SSB, compared to the mean of the two previous years. In 2020, the relative spawning–stock size (1.65) was above Bpa (0.47) and the biomass limit (Blim 0.29), and therefore had full reproductive capacity. Relative fishing mortality (F) has been fluctuating with no clear trend throughout the time-series, ranging between 0.12 (2001/02) and 2.1 (1990/91). In 2019/20, relative fishing mortality (F) was 0.67, decreasing from the previous season (0.86) 2018/19.

ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches (for the period 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021) from the western component should be no more than 4,347 tonnes and catches from the southern component should be no more than 11,322 tonnes. This is an increase in catch advice for both components from the previous advice period (2019/20), owing to increases in the biomass in the 2020 assessment.

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: 0.5 info

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

There is no EU management plan or known precautionary management plan for anchovy in this area.

The historical fisheries management seems to have been sustainable. However, the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) agreed for the stock is routinely higher than that advised by scientists although actual landings are lower than the TAC agreed. The TAC is currently combined for both stock components (Western and Southern), despite catch advice now being provided for each component separately (since 2018). Recent TACs have not always gained full compliance. In 2017 and 2018, landings exceeded TAC by 18% and 10%, respectably. Since 2018 (when advice was first provided for each component unilaterally), the TAC has been set at 100% and 114% of the combined advice for both components. However, landings have been in line with the advice provided for each component.

ICES states that if the management wishes to set a TAC for the whole of Division 9a (Atlantic Iberian waters) then both advised catches for the two components could be summed, but, there should be a provision to protect the smaller component from overexploitation, such as the fixing of a sub-TAC for the catch period.

Discards in this fishery are low; 4% (2018/19) and 1% (2019/20). The overall annual discard ratio for the Spanish fishery in 2019 (9a Central-North and Central-South) was 0.06% and may be considered as negligible. The overall annual discard ratio for the Spanish fishery in 9a South in 2019, was 4.5% and may be considered as a relatively very low ratio. No anchovy discards have been reported from the Portuguese fishery.

Regulatory technical measures in force, for the Spanish (ES) and Portuguese (PT) anchovy purse seine fishing in the Division 9a, include: a minimum vessel tonnage (20 GRT with temporary exemption, ES); a maximum engine power (450 hp, ES); purse-seine maximum length (450 m (9a South, ES), 600 m (9a North, ES), 800 m (PT)); purse-seine maximum height (80 m (9a South, ES); 130 m (9a North, ES) 150 m (PT)); minimum mesh sizes (14 mm (ES), 16 mm (PT)); and restricted fishing time (5 days per week (PT/ES)).

There are controls in place (e.g. minimum landings size, mesh size, seasonal closures) to protect juvenile fish. A two-month (December–January) seasonal closures exists in Spain for anchovy in subdivision 9a South, under different Gulf of Cadiz (GoC) purse-seine fishery management plans. Portugal also employ a seasonal closure (1.5–2 months in winter/spring) in 9a Central-North, Central-South, and South, although only for sardine.

The harvesting of anchovy in this area is controlled by minimum landing size (MLS). In subdivisions: 9a North (ES); 9a Central-North; 9a Central-South; and 9a South (PT), the MLS is 12 cm. In subdivision 9a South (ES) the MLS is 10 cm. Both of which are above the average length at first maturity 9.7 cm (range: 9-14 cm).

Since April 2013, Spain implemented a new management plan for fishing vessels operating in its national fishing grounds, which affects purse-seine fisheries in Galician (9a North) and GoC Spanish waters (9a South (ES)). One of the main measures in this plan was the introduction of an individual quota (IQ) system to allocate annual national quotas. In the case of the GoC purse-seine fishery, this measure involves a shift from a system of a fixed daily catch quota system for all the fleet to a new one based on the implementation of a IQ system managed quarterly by each fishery association, after resolution of the National Fishery Administration on the annual allocation of the national quota by association.

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 Atlantic Iberian waters, both in the western and southern regions.

The anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) fishery in the area is characterised by Portuguese and Spanish purse seiners. As usual, the anchovy fishery in 2019 was almost exclusively harvested by purse-seine fleets (98.1% of total catches), with the remainder landed as incidental catch (bycatch) from the bottom trawl or artisanal purse seine fisheries. 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 at depths between 20 and 100 m in this area. Seine net fisheries are not deemed to significantly impact the seafloor unless used in shallow waters, as nets are mostly deployed at greater depths where bottom contact does not occur. To protect shallow coastal zones, spatial closures in Portugal include a 1/4 nautical mile (nm) distance to the coastline, and 1 nm if below 20 m depth. In Spain, spatial closures exist in inside bays and estuaries, and internal waters in the North and South areas.

Although purse seiners can be associated with cetacean bycatch, the purse-seine fishery is highly mono-specific, with a low level of reported bycatch of non-commercial species. Historical information gathered from observers at sea sampling programmes and interview-based surveys indicated, at least for the western waters of the Iberian Peninsula facade, a low impact on the common dolphin population. Less data are available on seabird and turtle bycatch. Other species such as pelagic crabs are released alive and it is likely that the inflicted mortality is low.

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, cetaceans, seabirds and other Endangered, Threatened or Protected (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.

A Marine Protected Area (MPA) (the Guadalquivir River mouth fishing reserve), created in June 2004 in subdivision 9a South, corresponds to the main nursery area of fish (including anchovy) and crustacean decapods in the Gulf of Cadiz (GoC). Fishing in the reserve is only allowed (with pertinent regulatory measures) to gillnets and trammel nets, although outside the riverbed. Neither purse-seine nor bottom-trawl fishing is allowed within this MPA. To further counteract the effects of the purse seine fishery on juvenile populations’, closed seasons are implemented to protect the main recruitment period.

Developments to improve knowledge of potential impacts of the fishery on ETP species and further research into resource competition between the fishery and top-predators, such as seabirds, is required.


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FishSource (2016). European Anchovy SW Iberian: Profile updated on 29 September 2016. Available at [Accessed 13.10.2020]

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 (2020). Anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) in Division 9.a (Atlantic Iberian waters). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, ane.27.9a. Available at [Accessed 09.10.2020]

ICES (2020). Working Group on Southern Horse Mackerel, Anchovy and Sardine (WGHANSA). Draft report. ICES Scientific Reports, 2(41), 513pp. [Accessed 09.10.2020]

Ramos, F., Garrido, S., Rincón, M., Uriarte, A. and Silva, A. (2018). Stock Annex: Anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) in Division 9a (Atlantic Iberian Waters). Available at [Accessed 09.10.2020]