Oceana Magazine Fish Tale: Bay of Biscay Anchovy Fishery - Oceana USA
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October 3, 2014

Oceana Magazine Fish Tale: Bay of Biscay Anchovy Fishery

*** Local Caption *** Anchovies (Engraulis encrasicolus) unloaded from a purse seiner in the port of Ayvalik, Turkey. Oceana MarViva 2009 BFT. May 2009. Boquerones (Engraulis encrasicolus) descargados desde un cerquero en el puerto de Ayvalik, Turquía. Oceana MarViva 2009 BFT. Mayo 2009

This article, originally published in the summer 2014 issue of Oceana magazine, is the first installment of a new column, Fish Tale. Each issue, we’ll feature a recovering fishery from around the world, detailing why the fishery collapsed and what actions fisheries managers are taking to restore the fishery to its former abundance. Take a look below to learn more about the recovery of the Bay of Biscay anchovy fishery.

Fish Tale: Recovering fisheries and restoring abundance

Species: Engraulis encrasicolus

Location: Bay of Biscay, off the coast of northwestern Spain and southwestern France

Gear Type: Spanish and French fishermen using purse seines and trawlers


Fishermen have pursued vast shoals of anchovy in the Bay of Biscay for centuries, and the historic fishery is closely tied to the region’s history and culture. Anchovy are at risk of overfishing more than other species because of their biology the anchovy population is more volatile than other species, experiencing natural swings in population from year to year. Most anchovies live about three to four years, but one-year-old fish make up a majority of the fishermen’s catch. Thus, the health of the anchovy population depends significantly on the breeding success of the previous year, which in turn depends upon environmental and oceanic conditions.

These natural population fluctuations means that the anchovy fishery requires close monitoring and management, to ensure that anchovies are not overfished during a low-population year. Previously, fisheries managers did not take these fluctuations into account when setting quotas for the stock. As the anchovy were overfished, catches fell throughout the early 2000s, from a hefty high of 90,000 tons of anchovy to less than 10,000 tons in 2003. In 2005, after campaigning by Oceana and our allies, European Union fisheries managers closed the fishery for four years to allow the fish time to breed and rebuild their population.

Rebuilding Abundance

By 2009 the anchovy population had partially recovered, prompting fisheries managers to reopen the fishery. Thankfully, by 2011 scientists reported that the anchovy population was at its highest levels since population monitoring began in 1987. Finally embracing the new scientific approach, EU fisheries managers began setting catch limits in line with scientific recommendations.

Oceana’s Approach

Oceana believes anchovy stock could be improved even further. For this reason, Oceana is campaigning to link anchovy catch limits to the latest population data, requiring that fishermen be limited to catching a variable proportion of the stock biomass depending on the total biomass size in each year.