Forage Fish
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Closeup photo of Northern Anchovy with descriptions of identifying anatomy.
Photo: Closup of two Northern Anchovies with a ruler showing length. Photo: Northern Anchovy swimming in water.

Forage Fish Identification Guide

Northern Anchovy
Engraulis mordax

Commonly caught off the Washington coast by commercial harvesters during the directed bait fishery.  Incidentally caught in Puget Sound by commercial harvesters during the Pacific Herring fishery.  Commonly caught in Washington coastal estuaries by recreational harvesters using forage fish jig gear or cast nets. 

Description: The body of the Northern Anchovy is small but long and reasonably round-in-cross-section.  It has a blue or black back with a silver belly and adults have a faint silver stripe on their sides.  The anal fin of the Northern Anchovy begins below the rear of its dorsal fin, distinguishing it from other Washington forage fish species.  They have a long snout that overhangs a large mouth.  Feeding Northern Anchovy can be distinguished by the periodic flaring of their mouth and broad expansion of their gill plates as they engulf prey.

Maximum Size: To 24.8 cm (10 in) in length and 68 g in weight.

Maximum Age: 7 years.

Range/Habitat: Northern Anchovy range from Yakutat in the eastern Gulf of Alaska to southern Baja California and the Gulf of California.  They are typically found from southern British Columbia to Bahia Magdalena, California and the Gulf of California.  They are found from the surface to 310 m (1,017 ft).  Northern Anchovy are pelagic schooling fish and are found from the surf zone to more than 482 km (300 mi) off the coast.  Their diet consists of phytoplankton, zooplankton (including copepods, arrow-worms, and krill), and larval fishes.    They spawn throughout the year, with peak activity in the spring/summer.  Northern Anchovy are pelagic spawners and their eggs hatch in 2 to 4 days, depending on water temperature.  This species is an extremely important prey species for many marine mammals.


Photo: WDFW