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The anchovies are a family (Engraulidae) of small, common salt-water forage fish. There are about 140 species in 16 genera, found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. Anchovies are usually classified as an oily fish.

Description

Anchovies are small green fish with blue reflections due to a silver longitudinal stripe that runs from the base of the caudal fin. They range from to in adult length, and the body shape is variable with more slender fish in northern populations.

The snout is blunt with tiny, sharp teeth in both jaws. The snout contains a unique rostral organ, believed to be sensory in nature, although its exact function is unknown. The mouth is larger than that of herrings and silversides, two fish anchovies closely resemble in other respects. The anchovy eats plankton and fry (recently-hatched fish).

Distribution

They are found in scattered areas throughout the world's oceans, but are concentrated in temperate waters, and are rare or absent in very cold or very warm seas. They are generally very accepting of a wide range of temperatures and salinity. Large schools can be found in shallow, brackish areas with muddy bottoms, as in estuaries and bays. Anchovies are abundant in the Mediterranean, and are regularly caught on the coasts of Sicily, Italy, France, and Spain. They are also found on the coast of northern Africa. The range of the species also extends along the Atlantic coast of Europe to the south of Norway. Spawning occurs between October and March, but not in water colder than 12° C (53.6° F). The anchovy appears to spawn at least 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the shore, near the surface of the water.

Predation

The anchovy is a significant food source for almost every predatory fish in its environment, including the California halibut, rock fish, yellowtail, sharks, chinook, and coho salmon. It is also extremely important to marine mammals and birds; for example, breeding success of California brown pelicans and elegant terns is strongly connected to anchovy abundance. As anchovy populations drop, the population of the predatory species is also expected to decline .

Overfishing of anchovies has been a problem. Since the 1980s, large mechanized anchovy fishing vessels based in Francemarker have caught the fish in fine-mesh dragnet .

Consumption

Anchovies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Anchovies are also eaten by humans. When preserved by being gutted and salted in brine, matured, then packed in oil or salt, they acquire a characteristic strong flavour. In Roman times, they were the base for the fermented fish sauce called garum that was a staple of cuisine and an item of long-distance commerce produced in industrial quantities, and were also consumed raw as an aphrodisiac. Today they are used in small quantities to flavour many dishes. Because of the strong flavor, they are also an ingredient in several sauces, including Worcestershire sauce, remoulade and many fish sauces, and in some versions of Café de Paris butter. For domestic use, anchovy fillets are packed in oil or salt in small tins or jars, sometimes rolled around capers. Anchovy paste is also available. Fishermen also use anchovies as bait for larger fish such as tuna and sea bass.

The strong taste that people associate with anchovies is due to the curing process. Fresh anchovies, known in Italymarker as alici, have a much milder flavor.

The European anchovy, Engraulis encrasicolus, is the main commercial anchovy, with Moroccomarker being the largest supplier of canned anchovies . The anchovy industry along the coast of Cantabriamarker, initiated in Cantabria by Sicilian salters in the mid 19th century, now dwarfs the traditional Catalanmarker salters.

Fresh and dried anchovies are a popular part of the cuisine in Keralamarker and other south Indian states, where they are referred to as "Kozhuva" and provide a cheap source of protein in the diet. Fresh anchovies are eaten fried or as in a spicy curry. In English-speaking countries, alici are sometimes called "white anchovies", and are often served in a weak vinegar marinade, a preservation method associated with the coastal town of Colliouremarker in southeast France. The white fillets (a little like marinated herrings) are sold in heavy salt, or the more popular garlic or tomato oil and vinegar marinade packs.

In Southeast Asian countries, dried anchovies are known as "ikan bilis", "setipinna taty", or in Indonesia "ikan teri", with "ikan" being the Malay word for fish, or "dilis" in the Philippines. In Indonesiamarker, Malaysiamarker, and to a certain extent Singaporemarker, anchovies are used to make fish stock, Javanese sambal, or are deep fried. Ikan bilis is normally used in a similar way to dried shrimp in Malaysian cuisine. Anchovy is also used to produce budu, by a fermentation process. In Vietnam, anchovy is the main ingredient in the fish sauce- nước mắm- the unofficial national sauce of Vietnam. In other parts of Asia, such as Korea and Japan, sun-dried anchovies are used to produce a rich soup similar to "setipinna taty". These anchovy stocks are usually used as a base for noodle soups or traditional Korean soups. There are many other variations on how anchovy is used, especially in Korea.

In the United States, anchovies are most commonly known as a pizza topping, as an optional ingredient in Caesar salad, and as a component of Worcestershire Sauce.

Anchovies can concentrate domoic acid, which causes amnesic shellfish poisoning in humans, sea mammals, and birds. If suspected, medical attention should be sought. Anchovies also contain a high level of uric acid, a build-up of which can cause the inflammatory condition known as gout.

Notes

  1. Tacitus: Germania


References



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