Sand Lance

Resembling small eels, sand lance are burrowing fish that are important as food for many gamefish. They are excellent to eat when prepared in the style of whitebait. Quantities of sand lance are often dug up in the intertidal zone by people seeking clams.


Sand lance are small, slim, elongated, and round-bodied fish with no teeth, usually no pelvic fins, no fin spines, and forked tails. Although the sand lance has a long soft dorsal fin, it does not have a first dorsal fin. The body has sloping fleshy folds, and there is a distinct fleshy ridge along the lower side; the straight lateral line is close to the base of the dorsal fin.

Fin-ray and vertebral counts distinguish the American sand lance from the northern sand lance; the American sand lance has 51 to 62 dorsal fin rays, 23 to 33 anal fin rays, and 61 to 73 vertebrae, whereas the northern sand lance has 56 to 68 dorsal fin rays, 27 to 35 anal fin rays, and 65 to 78 vertebrae. Sand lance can be distinguished from young eels by their separate, rather than continuous, dorsal and anal fins, and by the rounded caudal fin of the eel.


Sand lance grow to a length of about 6 inches.

Other Names

Sand launce, sand eel, launce-fish, sandlance; French: lançon.


Sand lance occur in temperate and colder parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. On the western Atlantic coast, sand lance range from north Quebec to North Carolina.

Northern sand lance are believed to inhabit deeper waters, whereas American sand lance inhabit inshore areas. Pacific sand lance range from the Sea of Japan to arctic Alaska, the Bering Sea, and to Balboa Island in Southern California. The arctic and the Pacific sand lance may be separate species.


Schools of American sand lance are often abundant in shallow water along sandy shores and are found in salinities of 26 to 32 percent. For protection, the fish quickly burrow into the sand, snouts first, to a depth of about 6 inches.