• European anchovy;
  • histology;
  • macroscopic identification;
  • maturity scale


The identification and classification of macroscopic maturity stages plays a key role in the assessment of small pelagic fishery resources. The main scientific international commissions strongly recommend standardizing methodologies across countries and scientists. Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of uncertainty concerning macroscopic identification, which remains to be validated. The current paper analyses reproductive data of European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus L. 1758), collected during three summer surveys (2001, 2005 and 2006) in the Strait of Sicily, to evaluate the uncertainty in the macroscopic maturity stage identification and the reliability of the macroscopic adopted scale. On board the survey vessels, the maturity stage of each fish was determined macroscopically by means of an adopted maturity scale subdivided in six stages. Later, at the laboratory, the gonads were prepared for histological examination. The histological slides were analysed, finally assigning the six maturity stages for macroscopic examinations. A correspondence table was obtained with the proportion and number of matches between the two methods. The results highlight critical aspects in the ascription of macroscopic maturity stages, particularly for the present research aim. Different recommendations were evaluated depending on the scope of the study conducted on maturity (e.g. daily egg production, fecundity and maturity ogive computation). The most interesting results concern the misclassification of stage IV and stages III and V (the most abundant), which confirms their macroscopic similarity. Although the results are based on a small number of samples, the advantages and disadvantages of macroscopic and histological methods are discussed with the aim to increase the accuracy of correct identification and to standardize macroscopic maturity ascription criteria.