Cornish Sardine

Sardinus pilchardus

Cornish Sardine by Sarah McCartney

Image | Sarah McCartney Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Description

Delicious silvery fish. Cornish sardines are fabulous barbequed or grilled. They are high in omega 3 oils and are very good for you as well! Tiny soft bones can be easily chewed up and eaten. 


Sustainability Overview

Cornish sardines, also known as Pilchards, are caught in inshore waters by ring netters and driftnetters.  Pilchards were a mainstay of the fishing industry for centuries but in the late 20th century the fishery stopped as stocks moved out of our waters. Since the late 1990's shoals have been returning and a new modern fishery has sprung up. The majority of the fishing is done at night time from small highly mechanised vessels using a large small meshed net that encircles the shoal. The net is drawn in and fish are scooped out of the net into iced holds. The quality of the fish is high. Echo sounders are used to find the shoals and the pattern of the echo tells an experienced skipper what species the shoal is made up of. There is a risk of catching the wrong species – herring , sprat, and anchovy can also be caught in this way. The reform of the Common fishery policy means that discarding unwanted fish will be illegal from 2015.  The fleet of Cornish Ring netters has increased in size and now there are 13 under 10m vessels fishing for sardines each capable of catching up to 36 tonnes per night of fishing.
An organisation called Cornwall Sardine Management Group exsists. This membership group, which doesent include all the boats involved,  set a levey that has allowed them to pay for Marine Stewardship council accreditation for the fishery. Always choose MSC accredited Cornish sardines. 
 
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When is best to eat?

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Ring Netting

Cornish vessels landing to Cornish ports

Ring nets are encircling nets used to catch midwater fish such as sardine, and anchovy. They are set around a shoal and a drawstring rope on the bottom of the net is pulled so the fish can’t escape.

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How we rate fish

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Cornwall Good Seafood Guide rates fish on sustainability using a scale of 1 to 5.

1, 2 and 3 are recommended, Fish to avoid are rated 5.

We use the system devised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) so our scores are comparable with the scores produced by MCS for the UK and fisheries from all around the world. For more information on scoring click here.

Sustainability Overview

Cornish sardines, also known as Pilchards, are caught in inshore waters by ring netters and driftnetters.  Pilchards were a mainstay of the fishing industry for centuries but in the late 20th century the fishery stopped as stocks moved out of our waters. Since the late 1990's shoals have been returning and a new modern fishery has sprung up. The majority of the fishing is done at night time from small highly mechanised vessels using a large small meshed net that encircles the shoal. The net is drawn in and fish are scooped out of the net into iced holds. The quality of the fish is high. Echo sounders are used to find the shoals and the pattern of the echo tells an experienced skipper what species the shoal is made up of. There is a risk of catching the wrong species – herring , sprat, and anchovy can also be caught in this way. The reform of the Common fishery policy means that discarding unwanted fish will be illegal from 2015.  The fleet of Cornish Ring netters has increased in size and now there are 13 under 10m vessels fishing for sardines each capable of catching up to 36 tonnes per night of fishing.
An organisation called Cornwall Sardine Management Group exsists. This membership group, which doesent include all the boats involved,  set a levey that has allowed them to pay for Marine Stewardship council accreditation for the fishery. Always choose MSC accredited Cornish sardines. 
 
Cornish Sardine by Sarah McCartney

Biology

Sardines (also known as Pilchard) are small silvery fish related to herring that shoal in mid water around the Cornish coast (at the Northern end of their natural range).They live at depths ranging between 10-100m (usually 25-55m by day, rising to 10-35m at night). Schools of juvenile fish tend to be separated from adults and are found closer inshore. Sardines are mature at a length of around 15 cm. They spawn in batches in spring and summer in the open sea or near the coast, producing 50,000-60,000 eggs with a mean diameter of 1.5 mm. After spawning, they migrate northwards to their feeding grounds and are then found inshore in coastal waters. In winter they migrate southwards. Pilchards usually have a length of 20cm, maximum is about 27cm. Maximum reported age is 15 years. They feed on planktonic crustaceans such as copepods. The main season for the fishery is August to January although they are sometimes caught outside this period.

Stock Info

Sardine stocks have been little studied but it is thought that the sardines caught in Cornwall are a migratory subset of a larger stock found off the Breton coast and in the Bay of Biscay.  Data from the PELGAS study carried out in the Bay of Biscay show that stocks are high at 200,000 tonnes but that these have decreased each year for the last 2 years from 450,000 in 2011.  A study by Cefas studies 2011 showed that there was no difference genetically between Cornish sardines and those caught off Britanny and for the first time it was found that sardines spawn in Cornish waters. ICES are due to benchmark the sardine stock in 2013. Project Inshore use their risk based framework to assess this fishery and conclude it is low to medium risk.
 

Management

The Cornish sardine fishery is carried out within the 6 mile limit CIFCA district. Small mesh nets are used so that sardines will not be damaged by the net. Vessels fishing with ring nets are limited by CIFCA by laws to a maximum length of 18.23m.
 
The Cornish Sardine Management Group record catches. There is not legal cap on quanties being caught but the managment group seeks to maintain the demand for sardines by controlling landings to prevent oversupply that could affect prices. There is no quota on sardine catch in Cornwall. It is important to only buy MSC accredited sardines. CEFAS have conducted some research. Breton fishery also MSC certified.  
 
Stocks move between Cornwall and Brittany and in Brittany the sardine fishery (which is far larger) is now managed and has a limit on vessel numbers and catch quotas.  The Cornish sardine management group record their catches in detail and are monitored through the MSC accreditation process. 
 

Capture Info

The majority of sardines caught in Cornish waters are caught using ring nets. Similar to the larger purse seine nets these are used to encircle shoals of sardines that have been located using echo sounding equipment by the skippers. The fish can be identified by the nature of the echo and by catch in this fishery is not documented to be high. If a shoal is drawn in close to the boat and the skipper realizes is it a lower value species than expected it is common for the shoal to be ‘slipped’, ie the nets are opened and the shoal is released – if the fish are not too crowded in the net many will survive this but delicate pelagic fish are not good at coping with stress and sometimes large numbers will be wasted. The reform of the CFP means that pelagic discards will have to be landed. It is possible to net a shoal that is too large to land into the boat. The shoal is so large the boat would not be able to carry it so the remainder of the catch has to be slipped. Dumping large numbers of dead fish onto the seabed can lead to localized pollution due to decomposing fish stripping the water of oxygen creating pockets of anerobic conditions that kill benthic organisms. Purse seine nets are similar but larger and although they have no contact with the sea bed there have been issues with cetacean and seal bycatch in purse seine fisheries in other areas although there have be no reports  of this in the Cornish sardine fishery.

References

MSC progress report 
ICES WGANHESA 2011
Project inshore pre assessment database
Fisheries Science Partnership: 2010/11
CEFAS Sardine and anchovy off Southwest England
2011 Jeroen van der Kooij, Bill Mulligan, Damien Delaunay,
and Beatriz A. Roel
 

Recipes for Cornish Sardine

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