Image | Sarah McCartney Cornwall Wildlife Trust
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.
How we rate fish
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.
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.
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. Shoals are found using sonar. The net which is up to 200 meters long and 50 meters deep is shot around part of the shoal. If a shoal is drawn in close to the boat and the skipper realizes is it a lower value species than expected or the catch is too large 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 not survive. The CFP discards ban 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. Skippers will try to ensure that this happens before the fish are damaged but it can be difficult to work out if you have let enough escape. 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 little contact with the sea bed there have been issues with cetacean and seal bycatch in purse seine fisheries in other areas although as yet we have no documented evidece of this in the Cornish sardine fishery. Find out more about sardine fishing in this article.