Wildlife - Species

Bay Anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli)


The bay anchovy is one of 10 species of anchovies on the Atlantic coast of North America and is the most abundant fish in estuarine and coastal habitats along the eastern United States. Bay anchovies (and other anchovy species) are similar in appearance to fishes of the herring family (Clupeidae). However, they can be distinguished by a prominent silver stripe on either side of the body and lack of scutes (bony scales) along their bellies. Bay anchovies are of a greenish color above and silvery below and have a single dorsal fin, which is located midway along the body. They are often confused with silversides (Menidia spp.), but the two can be easily distinguished - anchovies lack a spine in the dorsal fin and have a large, gaping mouth that extends almost to the edge of the opercle, whereas silversides have two distinct dorsal fins, the first with four spines, and a very small mouth that is tilted upwards.

Preferred Habitat and Biology

Along the Atlantic coast, the species is distributed from the Gulf of Maine to Florida. It is also abundant along the Gulf coast to Yucatan, Mexico. Bay anchovies inhabit primarily shallow bays and estuaries but also occur in tidal freshwater habitats.

Bay anchovies, as other members of the family Engraulidae, typically aggregate in large schools. They are planktivorous fish which use gill rakers--comb-like structures on their gill arches--to strain the water for food. In South Carolina, spawning occurs in the evening during the summer months. Eggs are pelagic, and larvae hatch within 24 hours. Growth in this species is rapid, especially at higher temperatures, with a fish reaching maturity a few months after hatching. Bay anchovies seldom live past the age of two.

Species Significance

Bay anchovies are often very abundant and are important food for commercially valuable species such as striped bass, bluefish, spotted seatrout and southern flounder. They also are a very important link between the plankton community and higher order consumers. Thus, even though the species itself has no recreational or commercial value, it fulfills a crucial role in the coastal food web.


Dorsey, S.E., E.D. Houde, and J.C. Gamble. 1996. Cohort abundances and daily variability in mortality of eggs and yolk-sac larvae of bay anchovy, Anchoa mitchilli, in Chesapeake Bay. Fishery Bulletin 98:257-267.

Jones, P.W., F.D. Martin, and J.D. Hardy, Jr. 1978. Development of fishes of the mid-Atlantic Bight: an atlas of egg, larval, and juvenile stages. Volume I: Acipenseridae through Ictaluridae. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Biological Programs. FSW/OBS-78/12. Ft. Collins, CO.

Luo, J. and J.A. Musik. 1991. Reproductive biology of the bay anchovy in Chesapeake Bay. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 120:701-710.

Murdy, E.O., R.S. Birdsong, and J.A. Musick. 1997. Fishes of the Chesapeake Bay. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.