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This article is about the fish. For use in food, see Sardine (food). For the children's games, see Sardines (game).


Sardines are small epipelagic fish that sometimes migrate along the coast in large schools. They are an important forage fish for larger forms of marine life.
Global commercial capture of sardines in tonnes
reported by the FAO 1950–2009[1]

Sardines, or pilchards, are common names used to refer to various small, oily fish within the herring family of Clupeidae.[2] The term sardine was first used in English during the early 15th century and may come from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, around which sardines were once abundant.[3][4]

The terms sardine and pilchard are not precise, and what is meant depends on the region. The United Kingdom's Sea Fish Industry Authority, for example, classifies sardines as young pilchards.[5] One criterion suggests fish shorter in length than 6 inches (15 cm) are sardines, and larger ones pilchards.[6] The FAO/WHO Codex standard for canned sardines cites 21 species that may be classed as sardines;[7] FishBase, a comprehensive database of information about fish, calls at least six species "pilchard", over a dozen just "sardine", and many more with the two basic names qualified by various adjectives.


Sardines occur in several genera


Commercially significant species
Genus Common name Scientific name Max.
Sardina European pilchard* Sardina pilchardus (Walbaum, 1792) 27.5 cm 20.0 cm kg 15 years 3.05 [8] [9] [10]
Sardinops South American pilchard Sardinops sagax (Jenyns, 1842) 39.5 cm 20.0 cm 0.49 kg 25 years 2.43 [11] [12] [13]
Japanese pilchard Sardinops melanostictus (Schlegel, 1846) [14] [15] [16]
Californian pilchard Sardinops caeruleus (Girard, 1854) [17] [18] [19]
southern African pilchard Sardinops ocellatus (Pappe, 1854) [20] [21] [22]
Sardinella Bali sardinella Sardinella lemuru (Bleeker, 1853) 23 cm 20 cm kg years [23] [24] [25]
Brazilian sardinella Sardinella brasiliensis (Steindachner, 1879) cm cm kg years 3.10 [26] [27] [28]
Japanese sardinella Sardinella zunasi (Bleeker, 1854) cm cm kg years 3.12 [29] [30] [31]
Indian oil sardine Sardinella longiceps (Valenciennes, 1847) cm cm kg years 2.41 [32] [33] [34] Least Concern
Goldstripe sardinella Sardinella gibbosa (Bleeker, 1849) cm cm kg years 2.85 [36] [37] [38]
Round sardinella Sardinella aurita (Valenciennes, 1847) cm cm kg years 3.40 [39] [40] [41]
Madeiran sardinella Sardinella maderensis (Lowe, 1839) cm cm kg years 3.20 [42] [43] [44]
Dussumieria Rainbow sardine Dussumieria acuta (Valenciennes, 1847) cm 20 cm kg years 3.40 [45] [46] [47]

There are four distinct stocks in the genus Sardinops, widely separated by geography. The FAO treats these stocks as separate species, while FishBase treats them as one species, Sardinops sagax.[48]


Global capture of sardines in tonnes reported by the FAO

↑  Sardines of the Sardinops genus, 1950–2010[1]
↑  Sardines not of the Sardinops genus, 1950–2010[1]

Typically, sardines are caught with encircling nets, particularly purse seines. Many modifications of encircling nets are used, including traps or weirs. The latter are stationary enclosures composed of stakes into which schools of sardines are diverted as they swim along the coast. The fish are caught mainly at night, when they approach the surface to feed on plankton. After harvesting, the fish are submerged in brine while they are transported to shore.

Sardines are commercially fished for a variety of uses: for bait; for immediate consumption; for drying, salting, or smoking; and for reduction into fish meal or oil. The chief use of sardines is for human consumption, but fish meal is used as animal feed, while sardine oil has many uses, including the manufacture of paint, varnish and linoleum.

As food

Main article: Sardine (food)

Sardines are commonly consumed by humans. Fresh sardines are often grilled, pickled or smoked, or they are preserved in cans.

Sardines are rich in vitamins and minerals. A small serving of sardines once a day can provide 13 percent of vitamin B2; roughly one-quarter of niacin; and about 150 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin B12. All B vitamins help to support proper nervous system function and are used for energy metabolism, or converting food into energy.[49] Also, sardines are high in the major minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, potassium, and some trace minerals including iron and selenium. Sardines are also a natural source of marine omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular disease.[50] Recent studies suggest that regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids reduces the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease.[51] These fatty acids can also lower blood sugar levels.[52] They are also a good source of vitamin D,[53] calcium, vitamin B12,[54][55] and protein.

Because they are low in the food chain, sardines are very low in contaminants, such as mercury, relative to other fish commonly eaten by humans.[56]



In the United States, the sardine canning industry peaked in the 1950s. Since then, the industry has been on the decline. The last large sardine cannery in the United States, the Stinson Seafood plant in Prospect Harbor, Maine, closed its doors on 15 April 2010 after 135 years in operation.[57]

Pilchard fishing and processing became a thriving industry in Cornwall (UK) from around 1750 to around 1880, after which it went into decline. As of 2007, however, stocks are improving.[58] Since 1997, sardines from Cornwall have been sold as "Cornish sardines", and since March 2010, under EU law, Cornish sardines have Protected Geographical Status.[59] The industry has featured in numerous works of art, particularly by Stanhope Forbes and other Newlyn School artists.

The traditional "Toast to Pilchards" refers to the lucrative export of the fish to Catholic Europe;

"Here's health to the Pope, may he live to repent
 And add just six months to the term of his Lent
 And tell all his vassals from Rome to the Poles,
 There's nothing like pilchards for saving their souls!"[60]

Popular culture

The close packing of sardines in the can has led to their metaphorical use of the name in describing any situation where people or objects are crowded together, for instance, in a bus or subway car. It has also been used as the name of a children's game, where one person hides and each successive person who finds the hidden one packs into the same space until there is only one left out, who becomes the next one to hide.[61]

See also



  • Parrish, R. H., et al. (1989) : Their taxonomy, distribution, stock structure, and zoogeography. Can.J.Fish.Aquar.Sci. 46, 2019–36.

External links

  • Monterey Bay Aquarium

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