Bay Anchovy

Bay Anchovy, Anchoa mitchilli

The Bay Anchovy, Anchoa mitchilli, whose common Spanish name is anchoa de caleta, is a species in the Anchovy or Engraulidae Family, known collectively as sardinas in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Common Anchovy. Globally, there are 35 species in the genus Anchoa, of which 23 are found in Mexican waters, nine in the Atlantic and fourteen in the Pacific.

The Bay Anchovies are variable in appearance with southern populations having deeper bodies but overall they are small and slender fish. They are silvery translucent with a gray-green cast and a silver stripe mid-flank that is about the width of their pupil. Their head is short with a short blunt snout and a long jaw that almost reaches their gill openings. Their anal fin has 24 to 30 rays. Their single dorsal fin is located well back on the body and directly above the anal fin origin; it has a long base and 14 to 16 rays. Their pectoral fins have 11 to 12 rays. Their anus is closer to the pelvic fin tips than to the anal fin origin. They have 20 to 26 lower gill rakers.

The Bay Anchovies are a pelagic schooling species found over open areas with sandy substrate, in the surf zone, in tidal pools, and in coastal creeks and marshes at depths up to 80 feet. They reach a maximum length of 11.0 cm (4.3 inches). They are generally non-migratory and are one of the most common fish along the coastline of the western Atlantic. They are found in a wide range of water temperatures and salinities. They will not survive in depleted oxygen environments and low water temperatures. They are filter feeders and consume zooplankton including copepods, crab larvae, and mysids as well as small fish. They are more active at night to avoid predation. They are an important component of the ocean food system being preyed upon by a wide variety of larger fish including Bluefish, Chain Pickerel, Striped Bass, and Weakfish and by a variety of seabirds. Spawning occurs in schools with each female releasing 1,000 eggs up to 50 times per year. Reproduction is external with pelagic eggs and larvae. They have a lifespan of up to three years.

The Bay Anchovies are found in all Mexican waters of the Atlantic with the exception of along the east coast of the Yucatán. They are exceedingly abundant in the Pueblo Viejo Lagoon in Veracruz. Adult populations are estimated to exceed 1,000,000 individuals.

The Bay Anchovy is similar to the Bigeye Anchovy, Anchoa lamprotaenia (anal fin origin under center of dorsal fin), the Cuban Anchovy, Anchoa cubana (dorsal fin in front of anal fin), and the Striped Anchovy, Anchoa hepsetus (significantly larger; longer snout; dorsal fin in front of anal fin).

The Bay Anchovies have limited commercial use. Those that are harvested are used either as bait fish or to produce fish oil and fish paste. From a conservation perspective, they are currently considered of Least Concern, being abundant with stable populations and wide distribution. They are prone to, and can adversely be affected by, the deterioration of the water quality caused by human development and pollution. 

Bay Anchovy, Anchoa mitchilli. Fish caught off the pier in Folly Beach, SC, June 2015. Length: 6.2 cm (2.4 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Ryan Crutchfield, Tampa, FL.