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Anchovies are small, bony fish in the order Clupeiformes, a large group that also includes herring, salmon, and trout. Anchovies are in the family Engraulidae, and all of the more than 100 species are in the genus Engraulis. Anchovies are predominantly marine fish, but are occasionally found in brackish waters and even in freshwater. Species of anchovies are found in the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, European Atlantic coastal waters, and the Pacific coasts of Peru and Chile.

Anchovies are about 4-8 in (10-20 cm) long, with smooth scales, and soft fins. They live in schools made up of many thousands of individuals, often grouped according to size. Anchovies come to surface waters during the spawning season (May-July). Their eggs float on the surface of the water and hatch in 3-4 days. Anchovies swim with their mouth open, and feed on plankton, small crustaceans, and fish larvae. When food is scarce, anchovies take turns swimming at the front of their school, where they are more likely to encounter the best food. When a school of anchovies sense danger, it swims together to make a tight ball in which the fish on the inside are more protected, while those on the outer part have a greater chance of being consumed. Anchovies are usually caught by fishermen at night—lights on the boat serve as a lure.

In Peru, the anchovy known as anchovetta (Engraulis ringens), is economically important as a source of fish meal and fertilizer. In 1970, the Peruvian anchovetta fishery yielded about 12 million tons of fish, but this crashed to less than 2 million tons in most years between 1973-1987. The collapse of the fishery was likely due to excessive harvesting, although oceanographic and climatic changes associated with warm-water El Niño events may have also played a role. More recently, there has been somewhat of a recovery of the anchovetta stocks, and the fishery has yielded about 4 million tons a year. Other species of anchovy (such as E. encrasicolus) are fished in smaller numbers, canned in oil and salt, and sold as a delicacy (these are the tiny fish on pizza, and are also used to make the dressing for Caesar salad). Other species of anchovy are used as fish bait or are added to pet food and livestock feed.

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