Northern Anchovy
Engraulis mordax

Physical Description

  • A small, slim fish with a long snout over a large mouth that is often open while swimming
  • Blue-green coloration on top, silvery on bottom; faint silver stripe on side
  • Can be 7 inches in length


  • From British Columbia to Baja California, Mexico, including the Gulf of California


  • Usually found in open coastal waters within approximately 20 miles from shore


  • They have a very short lifecycle. They are able to spawn after two years and rarely live past 4
  • They spawn throughout the year, though it peaks from February to April
  • Females can lay eggs every 7-10 days
  • Depending on water temperature, eggs hatch after 2-4 days


  • Feeds on small invertebrates, including euphausiids, copepods and decapod larvae


  • Humans, tuna, sharks, birds, albacore, Pacific chub mackerel, and marine mammals

Interesting Facts

  • They like to socialize in very large, dense schools near the ocean surface. In July of 2014, a swarm of millions of anchovies swarmed off Scripps Pier; it was approximately 50 feet wide and 325 feet long! 
  • The Northern anchovy feeds both by random filter-feeding and by ‘pecking’ at prey.
  • They use scent to find prey, but they can mistake the scent of plastic for food! Keeping plastic out of the ocean can help save the Pacific anchovy.

Sources:; NOAA Fisheries; California Sea Grant

Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium

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