False Pilchard

False Pilchard, Harengula clupeola

The False Pilchard, Harengula clupeola, whose common Spanish name is sardinita carpachona, is a member of the Herring or Clupeidia Family, known collectively as sardinas in Mexico. This fish is also known as the False Herring. There are only four global members of the Harengula genus, and all four are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.

The False Pilchards have moderately deep fusiform compressed bodies with a depth that is 28 to 32% of standard length. Both their upper and lower body profiles are convex. They are iridescent blue-green dorsally and silvery with a faint dark longitudinal line on their sides. They have a faint black spot behind their gill covers. Their anal fin tips are dusky and their dorsal fin is transparent. They have large eyes and a mouth that opens at the front with a slightly projecting lower jaw. They have 28 to 34 fine gill rakers. Their anal fin has a short base and 15 to 19 rays with its origin being well behind the dorsal fin; their caudal fin is deeply forked; their dorsal fin is located slightly before the mid-body; and their pelvic fins are closer to the pectoral fin origin than to the anal fin origin. Their body is covered with strong scales.

The False Pilchards are a pelagic coastal schooling species that form very large schools found near and within estuaries and lagoons in both marine and brackish waters at depths up of 10 meters (35 feet). They reach a maximum length of 21.0 cm (8.3 inches) and are virtually weightless.

In Mexican waters the False Pilchard are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The False Pilchard is very similar to the Flatiron Herring, Harengula thrissina (only found in the Pacific Ocean). It can be confused with the Redear Sardine, Harengula humeralis (orange body stripes), the Scaled Sardine, Harengula jaguana (wider body; 32 to 39 gill rakers; pelvic fins midway between anal and pectoral fins), and the Spanish Sardine, Sardinella aurita (elongated narrow body; 45 to 90 gill rakers).

When available the False Pilchards make an excellent live bait for a wide variety of sportsfish.

False Pilchard, Harengula clupeola. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key West, Florida, August 2014. Length: 18 cm (7.1 inches). Catch and photo courtesy of Dean Kimberly, Atlanta, GA.