Anchovy – Engraulis-australis
Anchovy is known to Maori as kokowhawha or korowhaw
Anchovy is common around the North Island, and around Nelson and the West Coast of the South Island, and Fiordland, mostly in large surface schools. Anchovies are not mentioned by David H. Graham in his work at the Portabello Marine Research Station in Otago Harbour, near Dunedin, as this little baitfish is not found off the South Island’s east coast. The prominent baitfish species off Canterbury and Otago are pilchards and the laterally flattened sprat.
Anchovies range in size between 8cm and 12cm reaching a maximum of 15cm. They are bright silver in colour with the upper back an iridescent blue/green. The fine scales are easily dislodged. Their skin is easily damaged much like that of the barracouta. The small pectoral fin, along with the anal fins fold down flush with the body aren’t easy to see. Anchovy is almost round like a cigar in cross-section being only slightly laterally compressed.
When viewed from the air vast schools of anchovy appear like huge shadows cast by clouds across the surface of the sea. At certain times anchovy can be extraordinarily abundant. More info on the anchovy in FishBase.
Anchovies, like pilchards, and sprats, swim in tightly packed schools for “protection” from predators. Sometimes these tightly packed schools will “huddle” together beneath commercial or recreational fishing boats as they attempt to escape predators. These tightly packed frightened fish are often described by New Zealand anglers as “meatballs.”
Anchovies are preyed upon by kahawai, barracouta, mackerel, kingfish and numerous other fishes which tend to chase them into ever-tighter schools. Sports anglers enjoy having these anchovy “meatballs” beneath their boats as they attract bigger fish to their baits and lures! At such times anglers also use a net to scoop up anchovies from the “meatball” to use later as fish bait.
The dense schools of anchovies are also hunted by dolphins, sharks and seabirds (gannets and shearwaters), especially around the upper North Island. The anchovies only “defence” against the relentless predation attacks is to pack ever more tightly together.
Anchovy are good to eat
Anchovies are very good to eat and are popular the world over bottled, canned and salted. Fresh anchovies are best grilled with lots of olive oil, oregano, lemon juice and pepper, or filleted and “cooked” in lemon juice, garlic, chilli and olive oil according to Virgil Evetts at Foodlovers.co.nz.
Anchovy as bait
There is no commercial fishing for anchovies in New Zealand apart for perhaps some small-scale local fishing. Part of the reason they are not fished commercially is that anchovy schools are often found mixed together with other similar-sized baitfish species, particularly pilchards, making their capture uneconomic.
Some specialist tackle stores in New Zealand sell bags of frozen anchovies as bait. Being an oily fish, they make very good bait for many species but do become soft if not very fresh or having previously been frozen. If used for surfcasting baits they are best secured to the hook with bait elastic to prevent them from flying off when cast.
Spawning takes place in bays, inlets and estuaries between spring and autumn but peaks in high summer when the water is warmest. Their prefered temperature range is 14.3 – 24 degrees C according to Fishbase.org. It seems the poor anchovy is destined to be eaten by everyone and everything!