Sardine, a name given to various small fish of the herring family. The name is believed to come from the Italian island of Sardinia. Sardines are fished in almost all the ocean waters of the Northern Hemisphere. Most of the catch is canned in oil, wine, or tomato sauce. Smaller fish are canned whole; larger fish are cut to fit the cans. Sardines are also used to make fish meal and a nonedible oil used in industry.
Among the various fish called sardines are the European sardine, or pilchard; the Spanish sardine; the Japanese sardine, or Japanese pilchard; the Pacific sardine, or Pacific pilchard; and the Atlantic herring. Sardines are small; adults usually reach a length of only 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm), depending on the species. Sardines are greenish-black above with a silvery-white belly. They have a round body with large, thin scales. They feed on plankton and crustaceans. Sardines travel in large schools, and are caught primarily with nets.
The European sardine is Sardina pilchardus; the Spanish, Sardinella anchovia; the Japanese, Sardinops melanosticta; the Pacific, S. sagax; the Atlantic herring, Clupea harengus harengus. All belong to the herring family, Clupeidae.