IberiaNature A guide to the natural history of Spain
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Cantabrian anchovies threatened with wipe-out

The anchovy ( bocarte in the North or boquerón or anchoa in the rest, the fish; anchoa, in brine; boquerones, in vinegar) appears to be on the point of disappearing from the Bay of Biscay (Mar Cantábrico). The figures tell of a total collapse of its population. In 1965, 80,000 tonnes were caught; in the 1990's this had fallen to 30,000. Between 2002-2004, an average of 10,000 tonnes were still being hauled in. But this year on 13 th May at the end of the season, less than 200 (TWO HUNDRED) tonnes had been brought to port.

The reason as always are varied: overfishing (top of the list), reduction of fishing grounds (cession to the French), and a bag of environmental factors (changes in temperatures salinity and wind) that appears to have decimated their food sources.

European anchovies Engraulis encrasicolus ) live for 3-4 years. At the beginning of autumn they make their way from the Bay of Biscay to Norway where they build up fat reserves and return to the Bay of Biscay , plump for fishing. Their population fluctuates massively in function of the ability of fry to reach maturity (and be 'recruited' in fish parlance). Despite continual warnings since 2001, fishing has continued unabated. Researchers now recommend a total stoppage to allow stocks to recover to a safe biomass limit of 21,000 tonnes.

Anchovy fishing and canning employs some 3,000 people in Northern Spain . The Cantabrian anchovy canning industry is centred around Santoña. Anchovies here tend to be thicker. I personally prefer the slimmer Mediterranean anchovies brined, oiled and bottled in L'Escala. Both types are also superb fried like sardines.

Anchovies are distinguished from sardines by: sardines have a more pronounced jaw; sardines have silvery sides with darks spots; anchovies are smaller and slimmer; anchovies have a longer and toothier grin; anchovies have bigger eyes; anchovy have a greenish back.

Fish base notes: http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=66&genusname=Engraulis&speciesname=encrasicolus

Resilience: High, minimum population doubling time less than 15 months

Mainly a coastal marine species, forming large schools. Tolerates salinities of 5-41 ppt and in some areas, enters lagoons, estuaries and lakes, especially during spawning. Tends to move further north and into surface waters in summer, retreating and descending in winter. Feeds on planktonic organisms. Spawns from April to November with peaks usually in the warmest months.