Pacific sardines, also known as pilchards, are a very important part of the oceanic food chain and can form schools of up to10 million fish. They are found from southeastern Alaska to the Gulf of California, Mexico as well as Peru and Chile. They prefer warmer water and live in the pelagic zone of the water column in nearshore and offshore areas all along the coast.
The Pacific sardine has an elongated body that is silver in colour with dark blue on the back and shades of purple and violet along the sides. Black spots dot its back and sides, and the tail is forked. The sardine’s head is compressed and has a small mouth containing no teeth. Small, fresh sardines have a delicate sweet flavour while larger sardines have a more full oily flavour. Grilling sardines with olive oil, lemon and salt is all it takes to enjoy the rich flavor.
Off the coast of California, Pacific sardines spawn year round and can even spawn multiple times per season. Spawning occurs in in the upper 165 feet of the water column and as far as 100 miles offshore. The eggs are fertilized externally and single large female can produce up to 200,000 eggs per season. The eggs hatch near the surface within three days and the young fish journey inwards to gather in schools by the beach. Females grow faster than males and some individuals mature within the first year. Having no teeth, Pacific sardine are filter feeders consuming small planktonic copepods and crustaceans. They can grow up to 12 inches long and have been found to live as long as 13 years. Pacific sardines are an integral part of the marine food web providing food for many marine birds, fishes and mammals.
Coastal Pelagic Seine
Fish harvesters encircle a large wall of netting around schools of coastal pelagic fish like sardine, anchovies, mackerel and herring and pull the bottom of the netting closed, like a drawstring purse, to capture the fish.