Forage Fish
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Closeup photo of Pacific Sardine (Pilchard) with descriptions of identifying anatomy.

Forage Fish Identification Guide

Pacific Sardine (Pilchard)
Sardinops sagax

Commonly caught by commercial harvesters off the Washington coast. 

Description: The body of the Pacific Sardine is semi-compressed and elongate.  They are green or blue on the back and silver on the sides and belly, with 1-2 rows of dark spots along each side. Pacific Sardine have striations on the gill cover and do not have a strong ventral keel like American Shad.

Maximum Size: To 41 cm (16 in) in length and 0.5 kg (1.1 lb) in weight.

Maximum Age: Up to 16 years, at least 12 years in Washington state.

Range/Habitat: The Pacific Sardine is a highly migratory schooling species that ranges in the North Pacific, from south of Japan to southern Kamchatka, to southeastern Alaska to Mexico, including the Gulf of Mexico.  They are found from the surface to 150 m (495 ft) in depth.  Pacific Sardine are found in the surf zone and more than 563 km (350 mi) off shore.  When abundant, they are found in massive schools that sometimes contain other species like Northern Anchovy.   Pacific Sardine are sensitive to changes in water temperatures and move northward during warm water periods, moving back when water cools.  They consume phytoplankton and zooplankton and are prey for a plethora of predators including, but not limited to, flounder, rockfish, sharks, salmon, bass, lingcod, squid, seals, gulls, terns, whales and dolphins.


  • Love, M.S., 2011. Certainly More Than You Want to Know About The Fishes of The Pacific Coast: A Postmodern Experience. Really Big Press, Santa Barbara, California, 650 p.
  • Emmett, R. L., Brodeur, R. D., Miller, T. W., Pool, S. S., Bentley, P. J., Krutzikowsky, G. K., & McCrae, J. E. A. N., 2005. Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax) abundance, distribution, and ecological relationships in the Pacific Northwest. California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations Report, 46, 122.
  • South American Pilchard Wiki

Photo:  WDFW