Sardines and Anchovies Sacrifice Selves to Save the Tuna

A six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Jon writes about all things ocean.

Despite all the dismal warnings for tuna’s future (at our current rates of consumption, scientists anticipate many big-fish species will be all eaten up by 2050), global sushi lovers continue to order up spicy tuna rolls and seared ahi as if there weren’t a worry on the horizon.

Thankfully—if fish-eaters will only pay attention—plentiful options are swimming to the rescue. Think small—as in sardines and anchovies.

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Sardines are small, but also numerous, nutritious and delicious. (Photo: Matko Biljak/Reuters)

Predatory big fish, such as tuna, salmon, haddock, shark and cod, have been harvested relentlessly for the past century. All that taking has allowed smaller fish populations to boom.

An American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) panel estimates that while populations of big fish decreased by two-thirds during the past century, the numbers of smaller fish, including fully edible sardines, capelin and anchovies, have more than doubled.

This boom and bust of ocean populations tends to weaken ecosystems and isn’t healthy for the sea in the long run. If the cycles continue, we may end up with an ocean full of mostly plankton.

Villy Christensen, a scientist from the University of British Columbia, referred to today's imbalanced ocean as like “the Serengeti without lions.”

The contemporary urban palate has been happy to leave so-called forage fish (anchovies, etc.) to the bigger, predatory critters, but now may be the exact right time to polish up those sardine recipes.

Even celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has chimed in, encouraging his followers to restrict their fish eating to the less-popular but increasingly prolific mackerel, dab, pouting, herring … and sardines.


jon_bowermasterA six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Jon Bowermaster has spent the past two decades circling the world’s ocean, studying both its health and the lives of the people who depend on it. He is the author of 11 books (his most recent, OCEANS, Threats to Our Seas and What You Can Do to Turn the Tide, was published by Participant Media) and producer of a dozen documentary films. His blog—Notes From Sea Level—reports daily on issues impacting the ocean and us. Follow Jon on Facebook.


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