Pilchard Sardinops-neopilchardus is a pelagic bait fish species

Pilchard

Pilchard is also called Mohimohi, sardine (wrongly), and Picton herring

This small fish averages 15cm in length but can reach 25cm. It is blue above, greenish on the sides, and silver underneath. There is a row of black spots down each side that distinguish the pilchard from other small pelagic fishes. The body of the pilchard is almost round.

The late David H. Graham in A Treasury of New Zealand Fishes describes fishing off Cape Saunders, Otago, and seeing the following incredible sight. “As far as the eye could see these small fish were swimming in a northern direction, accompanied by flocks of predatory birds, such as Mutton Birds (sooty shearwaters), Cape Pigeons, Gulls and others. They were so abundant that when the launch was moving it seemed as though we were speeding over a floor of silver…” Such were the vastness of the pilchard schools seen in Otago in the 1930s.

Graham found that although pilchard are a pelagic (surface) fish he often found them in the stomachs of commercially caught fish that had been caught in very deep water over 80 fathoms down. He couldn’t say whether the pilchards have dived to that depth or if the deep water predators had come up to the surface to catch them.

Pilchards also come close to shore, and also into harbours where they are preyed upon by red cod, kahawai and many other species.

Sometimes huge numbers of pilchards were washed ashore in Otago and collected by residents who considered them to be good eating. Graham also reported that in 1900-1902 huge numbers were washed ashore off Oamaru and sold to retailers at 3 or 4 shillings a kerosene case. They retailed at 3d a dozen fresh and 4d a dozen smoked, and were much in demand.

It seems that for the most part pilchards eat small crustaceans particularly in the larval stages, such as crabs and shrimps. It could be that the abundance or otherwise of pilchards is affected by the annual fluctuations of their food supply.

One thing is certain pilchards are preyed upon by barracouta, kahawai and other species. Graham reports large shoals of pilchards around Cape Saunders being set upon by large shoals of the barracouta. The barracouta were forcing the pilchards on to the rocky coastline. They were so abundant that it was no trouble to dip a hand net into the sea and scoop up a full net.

Even in June and October off Cape Saunders, and as far as Puketeraki shoals of pilchards were seen a mile wide and almost continuous in length. All the while the pilchards were bubbling on the surface of the sea as they attempted to evade the barracouta and other fish that were pursuing and devouring them. Barracouta caught at such times were found to contain three or four dozen pilchards in their stomachs.

The vast schools of pilchards are preyed upon by a surprisingly large number of other species: Graham found the following species to have been feeding on pilchards: sevengill shark, tope, smoothhound, spiny dogfish, thresher shark, porbeagle shark, javelin-fish, whip-tail, hake, red cod, megrim, lemon sole, common sole, warehou, groper, kahawai, yellowtail kingfish, snapper, mackerel, and red gurnard. No doubt there are many others!

This post was last modified on 02/11/2020 11:57 pm

Share
Leave a Comment

Recent Posts

Blue Cod (Parapercis colias) – How to Catch Blue Cod Fishing Tips

Blue Cod - Parapercis colias Other names: Rawaru, patutuki by Allan Burgess Blue Cod - Parapercis colias - are caught all…

10/03/2021

Skipjack Tuna – Katsuwonus pelamis – Powerful barrel-shaped body

Skipjack Tuna - Katsuwonus pelamis Other Names: Arctic bonito, oceanic bonito, skippies, striped tuna, or victor fish. Aku (Hawaiian). Skipjack…

23/02/2021

Red Rock Lobster – Jasus edwardsii – Crayfish – spiny rock lobster

Lobster or Crayfish Red rock lobster is also called: Koura papatea, crayfish, spiny rock lobster and rock lobster. Widely known…

17/02/2021

Best Kahawai Fishing Lure – Small sprat shaped lures are the best

Best Kahawai Fishing Lure - Smaller lures 10-18g with a single hook work best by Allan Burgess Which is the…

23/01/2021

Kahawai Spin Fishing at River Mouths – Great on Light Tackle Video

Kahawai Fishing at River Mouths on Light Tackle Video Kahawai is one of the most readily available fish species for…

22/01/2021

Catch and Release or Catch and Kill – By Dick Marquand

"A good game fish is too valuable to be caught only once." Lee Wulff Advice on Catch and Release to…

17/01/2021

All Rights Reserved © fishingmag.co.nz 1999 - 2021

Read More