Pacific Sardine







Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Species: Sardinops sagax (Jenyns, 1842); from the Latin word sardine  (sardina), the Greek word ops  (like), and the Latin word sagux  (of quick perception, acute or alert).

Alternate Names: Pilchard, ‘dines, dinies (small sardines) and dinos, firecrackers (small sardines), rhinos or trout (large sardines). Called sardina Monterrey in Mexico.

Identification: Cigar-shaped like herring but blue green above, silverfish-white below, and identified by a series of black spots on the back. (Fish Bulletin #28 said they had dark green coloring on the back with opalescent reflections, shading into iridescent  silvery sides with round black spots of varying degree).

Size: Up to 16 1/4 inches but most caught from piers are under a foot in length.

A LARGE sardine caught at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara

Range: Guaymas, Mexico to Kamchatka, Alaska.

Habitat: Pelagic in nature but generally in nearshore waters. At times, moves into shallower water and bays but found from the surface down to about 80 feet. They generally travel in very large schools called “shoals” and frequently school with Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, and anchovies.

Piers: Sardines experience up and down cycles in numbers but when present can be caught at almost every California pier. I have caught them at 28 piers ranging from the Imperial Beach Pier near the Mexican border to Citizen’s Dock in Crescent City, just over 20 miles from the Oregon border. I never caught a sardine at a California pier from 1962 until 1990 when I landed a few at the Seal Beach Pier and Belmont Veterans Pier in Long Beach. However, I soon began to catch them at many piers and by 1994 I had  experienced phenomenal fishing at several piers (especially those in the Morro Bay area). From that point until the last few years have seen continued catches (with the most recent being at the Eureka Boardwalk in 2016). Best bets when present: Newport Pier, Balboa Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Port Hueneme Pier, Gaviota Pier, Pismo Beach Pier, Avila Pier, Port San Luis Pier, Morro Bay T-Piers, Cayucos Pier, San Simeon Pier, Monterey Wharf #2, Capitola Wharf, Santa Cruz Wharf and the Johnson Pier in Pillar Point Harbor.

Sardines caught at the Santa Cruz Wharf in 2003

Shoreline: Rarely taken from shore excepting in bays—Morro Bay, San Francisco Bay and Humboldt Bay.

Boats: Rarely taken from boats unless “making bait.”

Bait and Tackle: Light tackle. Generally caught on bait rigs like Lucky Lura or Sabiki outfits. Also can be caught on size 8-10 hooks fished with a small piece of pile worm or very small strip of anchovy. Puts up a very credible fight for its size.

Food Value:  Can be baked, broiled, bar-b-cued, or pickled. Considered somewhat superior to its cousin Pacific herring.

Comments: Most people have heard the stories of the tremendous commercial catches of sardines back in the 1930s and ’40s—catches in the billions. Then there was a virtual disappearance of sardines for many years with anchovies replacing them in many areas. Many scientists blamed overfishing for the collapse of the fishery, others claimed it was a cyclical phenomenon related, at least in part, to water temperature. Today most scientists feel there were a number of different causes that, in connection with the over fishing and change in water temperatures, led to the collapse. Recent decades, as mentioned above, saw an increase in the number of sardines. That’s the good news! The bad news is that sardines are in decline once again. NOAA Fisheries reports that “the population took a nose dive and dropped by roughly 90 percent between 2007 and 2016. In response to this crash, in April 2015 the federal Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to close the directed commercial fishery. This week [April 12, 2016] the Council voted to keep the fishery closed for another year.” The following articles give evidence of the problem.

Pacific Sardine

The Role of Fishing in the Pacific Sardine Collapse

As Pacific sardine collapse worsens, scientists worry about ecosysyem ripple

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