Herring or sild

Clupea harengus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pelagic trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Irish Sea (North)
Stock detail — 7a (North)
Picture of Herring or sild

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020.

The stock is currently at its highest level and fishing is within sustainable limits. There is no management plan in place, but there are plans to develop one. Pelagic pair trawling, as employed in this fishery, is generally a selective and low impact method of fishing. Scientific advice is to avoid negative impacts on the spawning habitat of herring, unless the effects of these activities have been assessed and shown not to be detrimental to the stock. There has been an increase in marine anthropogenic activity, especially in the area of marine renewables. The construction and development of wind farms, for example, results in disturbance to the seabed, as does aggregate extraction. Gravel is an essential habitat for spawning herring. The majority of this fishery is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, and has been since 2014.


Herring belongs to the same family of fish (clupeids) as sprat and pilchard. It can grow to greater than 40 cm, although size differs between races (distinct breeding stocks). Most herring landed are around 25 cm. Herring are sexually mature at between 3-9 years (depending on stock) and populations include both spring and autumn spawners. At least one population in UK waters spawns in any one month of the year. Herring have an important role in the marine ecosystem, as a transformer of plankton at the bottom of the food chain to higher trophic or feeding levels, e.g. for cod, seabirds and marine mammals. It is also considered to have a major impact on other fish stocks as prey and predator and is itself prey for seabirds and marine mammals in the North Sea and other areas. Herring spawning and nursery areas are sensitive to anthropogenic or human influences such as sand and gravel extraction.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

The stock is in a very good state and fishing mortality is well within sustainable limits.

The spawning stock biomass (SSB) of herring within this area has fluctuated between 6,582 and 26,876 tonnes since 1980. SSB was at its lowest recorded level in 2003, and highest in 2010. SSB has mostly increased since the early 2000’s, as fishing pressure (F) began to reduce. In 2020, SSB was 24,786 tonnes, remaining almost equal to the previous year (24,785 tonnes). SSB has been above MSY Btrigger (11,831 tonnes) since 2007, and currently close to the largest recorded level in the time-series; spanning from 1980-2020. In 2020, the ratio of B:BMSY was 2.1. Fishing mortality (F) in 2019 was 0.184, which has been decreasing since 2001 and been below the maximum sustainable yield (FMSY) of 0.266 since 2007. In 2019, the ratio of F:FMSY was 0.69. There has been above average recruitment since 2006, which is a positive sign for the future of the stock biomass.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2021 should be no more than 7,341 tonnes. This is a ~9% decrease on last year, however, last year’s advice was based on a forecasted growth in SSB.

Due to the presence of herring from other stocks in this area (including juveniles from the Celtic Sea), the assessment may overestimate the Irish Sea stock.


Criterion score: 0.5 info

There is no precautionary management plan in place for this stock, although there are aspirations to develop one. This fishery is almost entirely certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

This fishery is managed by Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limits, TACs are split between the UK and Ireland. Since 2013, TACs have been set in line with scientific advice. However, catches as estimated by ICES exceeded the agreed annual TAC and advice since 2008 (except 2019). Catches were on average 26% above advice and the TAC between 2015 and 2018. For the first time since 2008, catches were equal to the advice and the TAC; 2019.

The Pelagic AC has an aspiration to develop a long term management strategy for this stock. It is known that juvenile Celtic Sea herring mix with the Irish Sea stock, as a result, this stock should be considered as part of a metapopulation. The consequence of this needs to be further evaluated for management and advice.

Discards are considered to be negligible.

Scientific advice is to avoid negative impacts on the spawning habitat of herring, unless the effects of these activities have been assessed and shown not to be detrimental to the stock. There has been an increase in marine anthropogenic activity, especially in the area of marine renewables. The construction and development of wind farms, for example, results in disturbance to the seabed, as does aggregate extraction. Gravel is an essential habitat for spawning herring.

Beyond TACs, harvesting of herring is controlled through an EU Minimum Landing Size (MLS) of 20cm which is above herring size of maturity of around 17cm.

The Northern Ireland Pelagic Sustainability Group (NIPSG) Irish Sea Herring is certified as a responsibly managed fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

The UK is due to leave the EU on 31st December 2020, and new UK Fisheries legislation is being developed during 2020. MCS will update ratings with new management information when new legislation comes into force.

In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.
The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota ‘uplift’ being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.
Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels.
The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.
The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

Herring are caught by pelagic trawls in the northern Irish Sea.

Herring fisheries are well targeted and tend to be clean with little bycatch of other fish.

Atlantic herring has been fished in the Irish Sea since the middle ages. Almost all (>99%) of the herring in the northern Irish Sea is caught by pelagic trawlers (pair and single), mostly by the UK but also Ireland. The fish are typically caught in the hours of darkness, as they enter the North Channel, down the Scottish coast, and around the Isle of Man. Generally, the fishery operates from June to November, but is highly dependent on the migratory behaviour of the herring.

The pelagic fisheries on herring are deemed to be some of the cleanest fisheries in terms of bycatch, disturbance of the seabed and discarding. Most of the herring catch is taken by a very small number of vessels >49m, often by pair trawling boats. Pelagic pair trawling is a well-targeted method, boats are equipped with sonar and net and catch monitors, catching herring through acoustic detection, with a very low risk of marine mammal bycatch. Pelagic trawls can be associated with bycatch of marine mammals, but, there have been no reports of bycatch of Endangered, Threatened or Protected (ETP) species within this fishery. Mitigation measures include the avoidance of certain areas and periods where cetaceans are more likely to be prevalent, and using acoustic pingers as deterrents. Therefore, interactions with ETP species is considered to be low. Incidental catch of other non-target species (bycatch) is negligible. Where incidental catch does occur species could include sprat, horse mackerel or mackerel. The pelagic herring fishery in the Irish Sea, has little to no impact upon the seabed, as fishing gear does not make contact with the seabed, therefore, there is no risk to habitats.

To protect juveniles, herring fishing is banned in the Irish Sea along the east coast of Ireland and within 12 nautical miles of the west coast of Britain throughout the year, although, gillnets are permitted within the Irish closed box. An area east of the Isle of Man, encompassing the Douglas Bank spawning ground is closed during the spawning season. Boats from the Republic of Ireland are not permitted to fish east of the Isle of Man.

Under Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, the Northern Ireland Pelagic Sustainability Group (NIPSG) Irish Sea Herring fishery, are recommended; if and when seabirds are accidentally caught in the net, they are recorded to species level, and to further improve on the detail of the information recorded on non-target/ ETP species, all ETP species should be recorded and not just cetaceans, as presently mandated. This is already done by some member states.

A potential impact of the herring fishery is the removal of fish that could provide other ecosystem services. Small clupeids are an important source of food for piscivorous seabirds including gannets, guillemots and razorbills which nest at several locations in and around the Irish Sea. Marine mammal predators include grey and harbour seals and possibly pilot whales, which occur seasonally in areas where herring aggregate.

Research suggests that herring recruitment is better in cooler temperatures, so any increase in sea surface temperature could have negative impacts on the stock.


Binohlan, C. and Nicolas, B. (Editors) (2020). Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus). Available at https://www.fishbase.se/summary/Clupea-harengus.html [Accessed 06.07.2020]

EC (1983). COUNCIL REGULATION (EEC) No 2931/83 of 4 October 1983 amending Regulation (EEC) No 171 /83 laying down certain technical measures for the conservation of fishery resources. Available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:31983R2931&from=EL [Accessed 18.06.2020]

ICES (2020). Herring Assessment Working Group for the Area South of 62degrees N (HAWG). ICES Scientific Reports, 2:60. 1054 pp. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2020/HAWG/01%20HAWG%20Report%202020.pdf [Accessed 06.07.2020]

ICES (2020). Herring (Clupea harengus) in Division 7.a North of 52degrees 30’N (Irish Sea). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, her.27.nirs. https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5920. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2020/2020/her.27.nirs.pdf [Accessed 07.07.2020]

Knapman, P., Cardinale, M. and Gaudian, G. (2019). MSC SUSTAINABLE FISHERIES CERTIFICATION Northern Ireland Pelagic Sustainability Group (NIPSG) Irish Sea Herring, Public Certification Report, 28th November 2019. Available for download at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/northern-ireland-pelagic-sustainability-group-nipsg-irish-sea-herring/@@assessments [Downloaded 07.07.2020]

Ramsden, N. (2020). With mackerel already gone, Atlantic herring faces MSC certificate loss. Available at https://www.undercurrentnews.com/2020/02/07/with-mackerel-already-gone-atlantic-herring-faces-msc-certificate-loss/?utm_source=Undercurrent+News+Alerts&utm_campaign=75db5cd51b-Pelagics_roundup_Feb_07_2020&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_feb55e2e23-75db5cd51b-92692749 [Accessed 07.07.2020]

Schon, P-J. (2017). Stock Annex: Herring (Clupea harengus) in Division 7.a North of 52degrees 30’N (Irish Sea). Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Stock%20Annexes/2017/her.27.nirs_SA.pdf [Accessed 07.07.2020]