Anchovy, European anchovy

Engraulis encrasicolus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pelagic trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Bay of Biscay
Stock detail — 8
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 at the highest ever-recorded levels 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 below the long-term average exploitation 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 reopening 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.

There is no impact on benthic habitats caused by mid-water pelagic trawls. Bycatch in this fishery is thought to be negligible. However, there are high levels of interactions between dolphins and pelagic trawls in the Bay of Biscay, primarily in the sea bass fishery. Observer coverage in European fisheries is generally poor, and therefore there is not enough data on bycatch levels in general. While the anchovy fishery is not of primary concern, it is possible that this fishery could be contributing to dolphin population declines in this area.

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.

There is an MSC certified fishery within the scope of this assessment in the Cantabrian 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

Stock Area

Bay of Biscay

Stock information

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: 0.25 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), and became the first anchovy fishery in Europe to achieve MSC certification in 2015.

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: 0.5 info

European anchovy is caught by pelagic trawls 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. 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%).

ICES considers bycatch in this fishery to be negligible and pelagic fisheries are deemed to be some of the cleanest fisheries in terms of disturbance of the seabed, bycatch and discarding. However, pelagic trawling (albeit, particularly for sea bass) in the Bay of Biscay is associated with high levels of dolphin bycatch and mortality (mainly common dolphin - Delphis delphinus), which is likely causing populations to decline. In light of anecdotal evidence of pelagic trawls impacting common dolphin populations in the Bay of Biscay, there is concern over the application of this fishing gear in the area.

No anthropogenic mortality (or bycatch) limits have been defined for the common dolphin in the Northeast Atlantic. ICES evaluated the bycatch risk to common dolphins in the Bay of Biscay in 2018, and concluded bycatch levels may exceed internationally adopted thresholds of acceptability. The total common dolphin bycatch in mid-water trawls in the Bay of Biscay in 2015/16 was likely to have been between 924 and 2,187 individuals, representing 0.83-1.95% of the common dolphins present in subarea 8. The upper estimate (1.95%) exceeds the threshold of 1.7% of abundance. Based on the number of strandings in 2019, it was estimated that up to 11,000 common dolphins were killed in the Bay of Biscay by fishing, the highest ever-recorded levels. Bycatch is cited as the main pressure on this species, and associated mortality levels are very likely contributing to a decline in the common dolphin population within this area.

France is carrying out research and developing plans (including acoustic repellents, avoidance tactics, better data collection and quantified mortality reduction targets) to reduce dolphin mortality from bycatch. Some measures are already required under EU legislation, but these have not yet resulted in a reduction in bycatch. In May 2020, ICES concluded that proposed measures by NGOs for the common dolphin in the Bay of Biscay are appropriate to reduce the bycatch. However, several spatio-temporal and technical amendments are recommended by ICES: For the common dolphin in the Bay of Biscay, a combination of temporal closures of all metiers (fisheries) of concern and application of ‘pingers’ on pair trawlers to mitigate bycatch outside of the period of closure. Application of ICES advice and the proposed measures are yet to be displayed.

In July 2020, the European Commission took legal action against France and Spain for not complying with the Habitats Directive, as they are not preventing unsustainable bycatch of dolphin and porpoises. France and Spain have also failed to make sure that fishing boats are using ‘pingers’ to scare porpoises away from nets as required under EU Fisheries Law.

Small pelagic fish, most notably mackerel (Scomber scombrus), scads (Trachurus spp.), anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus), and sardine (Sardina pilchardus), dominate the diets of common dolphins. This overlap in feeding preferences is thought to increase the risk of dolphins being caught by pelagic trawls while feeding and may be an underlying mechanism to explain the high rate of common dolphin bycatch observed in the pelagic trawl fishery in the Bay of Biscay. Anchovy are an important prey species 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.

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.

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).


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