It is easily distinguished by its deeply-cleft mouth, the angle of the gape being behind the eyes. The pointed snout extends beyond the lower jaw. The fish resembles a sprat in having a forked tail and a single dorsal fin, but the body is round and slender. The maximum length is 8 1/8 in (205 mm).
European anchovies are abundant in the Mediterranean and formerly also the Black and Azov seas. They are regularly caught on the coasts of Spain, France, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Greece, Georgia, and Turkey. The range of the species also extends along the Atlantic coast of Europe to the south of Norway. In winter it is common off Devon and Cornwall (United Kingdom), but has not hitherto been caught in such numbers as to be of commercial importance.
There is reason to believe the anchovies at the western end of the English Channel in November and December migrate from the Zuider Zee and Scheldt in autumn, returning there the following spring. They were believed an isolated stock, for none come from the south in summer to occupy the English Channel, though the species exists on the coast of Portugal. The explanation appears to be that in summer, the shallow and landlocked waters of the Zuider Zee and the sea off the Dutch coast raise higher in temperature than the sea off the British coasts, so anchovies can spawn and maintain their numbers in these waters.
Spawning takes place in June and July. The eggs are buoyant and transparent like most fish eggs, but are unusual in being sausage-shaped, instead of globular. They resemble sprat and pilchard eggs in having a segmented yolk and no oil globule.
The larva hatch two or three days after fertilization, and are minute and transparent. In August young specimens, 1½ to 3½ in (40 to 90 mm), in length.
The occurrence of anchovies in the English Channel has been carefully studied at the laboratory of the Marine Biological Association at Plymouth. They were most abundant in 1889 and 1890. In the former year considerable numbers were taken off Dover in drift nets of small mesh used for the capture of sprats. In the following December large numbers were taken together with sprats at Torquay. In November 1890 a thousand of the fish were obtained in two days from the pilchard boats fishing near Plymouth; these were caught near the Eddystone.