The terms "sardine" and "pilchard" are not precise, and what is meant depends on the region. The United Kingdom's Sea Fish Industry Authority, for example, classifies sardines as young pilchards. One criterion suggests fish shorter in length than 15 cm (6 in) are sardines, and larger fish are pilchards.
The FAO/WHO Codex standard for canned sardines cites 21 species that may be classed as sardines;FishBase, a comprehensive database of information about fish, calls at least six species "pilchard", over a dozen just "sardine", and many more with the two basic names qualified by various adjectives.
'Sardine' first appeared in English in the 15th century, a loanword from French sardine, derived from Latinsardina, from Ancient Greek? (sardín?) or (sardínos), said to be from the Greek "Sardò" (), indicating the island of Sardinia. Athenaios quotes a passage from Aristotle mentioning the fish sardinos, referring to the sardine or pilchard. However, Sardinia is around 800 miles (1300 km) distant from Athens; Ernest Klein in his Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (1971) writes, "It is hardly probable that the Greeks would have obtained fish from so far as Sardinia at a time relatively so early as that of Aristotle."
The flesh of some sardines or pilchards is a reddish-brown colour similar to some varieties of red sardonyx or sardine stone; this word derives from ? (sardion) with a root meaning 'red' and apparently cognate with Sardis, the capital of ancient Lydia (now western Turkey) where it was obtained. Sarx itself in greek means flesh, and similar stones, Carnelian from Latin or the onyx in sard onyx have similar naming.
The phrase "packed like sardines" (in a tin) is recorded from 1911. The phrase "...packed up like sardines..." appears in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction from 1841, and is a translation of "...encaisse comme des sardines" which appears in La Femme, le mari, et l'amant from 1829. Other early appearances of the idiom are "... packed together...like sardines in a tin-box" (1844), and "...packed...like sardines in a can..." (1854).
^ abcThere are four distinct stocks in the genus Sardinops, widely separated by geography. The FAO treats these stocks as separate species, while FishBase treats them as one species, Sardinops sagax.
? Sardines not of the genus Sardinops, 1950-2010
Typically, sardines are caught with encircling nets, particularly purse seines. Many modifications of encircling nets are used, including traps or fishing weirs. The latter are stationary enclosures composed of stakes into which schools of sardines are diverted as they swim along the coast. The fish are caught mainly at night, when they approach the surface to feed on plankton. After harvesting, the fish are submerged in brine while they are transported to shore.
Sardines are commercially fished for a variety of uses: for bait; for immediate consumption; for drying, salting, or smoking; and for reduction into fish meal or oil. The chief use of sardines is for human consumption, but fish meal is used as animal feed, while sardine oil has many uses, including the manufacture of paint, varnish, and linoleum.
Sardines are commonly consumed by human beings. Fresh sardines are often grilled, pickled, or smoked, or preserved in cans.
Sardines are rich in vitamins and minerals. A small serving of sardines once a day can provide 13% of vitamin B2; roughly one-quarter of niacin; and about 150% of the recommended daily value of vitamin B12. All B vitamins help to support proper nervous system function and are used for energy metabolism, or converting food into energy. Also, sardines are high in the major minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, and potassium, and some trace minerals including iron and selenium.
Pilchard fishing and processing became a thriving industry in Cornwall (UK) from around 1750 to around 1880, after which it went into decline. Catches varied from year to year, and in 1871, the catch was 47,000 hogsheads, while in 1877, only 9,477 hogsheads. A hogshead contained 2,300 to 4,000 pilchards, and when filled with pressed pilchards, weighed 476 lbs. The pilchards were mostly exported to Roman Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain, where they are known as fermades. The chief market for the oil was Bristol, where it was used on machinery.
In April 2015 the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to direct NOAA Fisheries Service to halt the current commercial season in Oregon, Washington and California, because of a dramatic collapse in Pacific sardine stocks. The ban affected about 100 fishing boats with sardine permits, although far fewer were actively fishing at the time. The season normally would end June 30. The ban was expected to last for more than a year, and was still in place in May 2019.
In popular culture
The manner in which sardines can be packed in a can has led to the popular English language saying "packed like sardines", which is used to metaphorically describe situations where people or objects are crowded closely together. The British-Irish poet and comic Spike Milligan satirises this in his poem "Sardine Submarine", where a sardine's mother describes the unfamiliar sight of a submarine to its offspring as "a tin full of people".
Sardines is also the name of a children's game, where one person hides and each successive person who finds the hidden one packs into the same space until only one is left out, who becomes the next one to hide.
^Grant, W. S.; et al. (1998). "Why restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis of mitochondrial DNA failed to resolve sardine (Sardinops) biogeography: insights from mitochondrial DNA cytochrome b sequences". Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 55 (12): 2539-47. doi:10.1139/f98-127.