Herring or sild

Clupea harengus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Drift net
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea, eastern English Channel
Stock detail — North Sea Autumn Spawners: 4, 7d
Picture of Herring or sild

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

Management has maintained the North Sea Autumn Spawning stock in a good state, and fishing pressure is within sustainable limits. However, the spawning stock is gradually decreasing, while fishing pressure has been increasing, and it is possible that the advice and therefore the management are not currently precautionary. In 2020 it is predicted that the stock will drop below MSY BTrigger. In addition, catches tend to exceed Total Allowable Catches, and recent TACs have exceeded scientific advice. Bycatch in this fishery includes Western Baltic spring spawning herring, which is recommended to have zero catch levels.


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

Stock Area

North Sea, eastern English Channel

Stock information

The stock is in a good state and fishing pressure is within sustainable limits - although it is noted that in 2020 the stock is expected to drop below the point at which management measures are triggered.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) of North Sea Autumn Spawning (NSAS) herring has fluctuated between 1.5 and 2.7 million tonnes since 1998, above MSY Btrigger (1.4 million t). It was 1,870,360t in 2018, the lowest since 2008. Fishing mortality (F) has been below FMSY (0.26) since 1996 and was 0.21 in 2018 - the highest since 2006.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 431,062 tonnes, the majority of which (418,649t) is assigned to the directed herring fisheries in the North Sea (areas 4 and 7a). This a 38.4% increase on the previous year, owing to an updated assessment and increased estimate of stock size. However, recruitment has been relatively low since 2002, particularly in 2015 and 2017. This, in combination with maintaining fishing pressure at FMSY, means that SSB in 2020 is expected to be below MSY Btrigger. A recent management strategy evaluation (2019) found that ICES’ current approach to giving advice may not be precautionary, and new reference points may be needed.

The causes of low recruitment for this stock have not yet been quantified but there are concerns that spawning substrate and nursery areas are being disturbed by activities such as extraction of marine aggregates (such as sand and gravel) and other activities (e.g. construction and offshore windfarm development) that have an impact on the sea bed and may therefore be expected to impact on herring spawning.


Criterion score: 0.5 info

Management has maintained the stock in a good state, and fishing pressure is within sustainable limits. However, the spawning stock is gradually decreasing, while fishing pressure has been increasing, and it is possible that management is not currently precautionary. In 2020 it is predicted that the stock will drop below MSY BTrigger. In addition, catches tend to exceed TACs, and recent TACs have exceeded scientific advice.

This stock is jointly managed between the EU and Norway, but there is currently no management plan after the last one ended in 2016. ICES has provided advice on options for long-term management strategies based on a request from them.

This fishery is divided into a number different components, with TACs and advice tailored to the different stock components. There are 4 fleets (A-D): A: directed herring fisheries in the North Sea (areas 4 and 7d); B: bycatches of herring in the North Sea; C: directed herring fisheries in area 3a; D: bycatches of herring in 3a. Sub-TACs are provided for divisions 4c and 7d to account for the fact that the stock has several different spawning components in different areas. Fleets C and D are advised to have 0 TAC owing to the possibility that catches in 3a can include Western Baltic Spring Spawning (WBSS) herring, which has a 0 TAC recommendation. In 2018, A-fleet and B-fleet TACs combined were 18% higher than the advice, and in 2019 they were 28% above. Catches were roughly equivalent to the TAC. Despite the 0 TAC recommendation, in 2018, C-fleet had a TAC of 48,400t and D-fleet a TAC of 6,700t and in 2019 this was reduced to 29,300t and 6,700t respectively. Catch in 2018 was 23,300t, 19,900t of which was WBSS. WBSS can also be caught in the eastern North Sea: 2,164t of WBSS were caught here in 2018. ICES advises that without additional area and seasonal restrictions in the North Sea, the catch of WBSS in 2020 will likely be of a similar magnitude.

Beyond TACs, harvesting of North Sea autumn-spawning herring is also controlled through legislation specifying closed areas for fishing and a minimum landing size of 20cm for the human consumption fisheries in the North Sea. The industrial fishery is limited by a bycatch ceiling and a bycatch percentage, and slippage (discarding of catch prior to bringing it on board the vessel) and high-grading (discarding low-value fish to save quota for higher value fish) are banned for EU vessels. Discarding is banned for both EU and Norwegian vessels.

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

Drift nets are used mainly by UK fishermen, often on a small scale (some operate for less than 1 month), to catch pelagic species such as herring. Herring is also targeted by French driftnet boats. In 2014 the EU proposed a ban on all driftnets in European waters, as is already in place in the Baltic Sea, but this has met opposition on the grounds that the small scale UK herring drift net fisheries are low impact. There are EU limits on driftnet length and species that may be caught, but the illegal use of driftnets continues to be reported in EU waters (especially in the Mediterranean). However, driftnets for species such as North Atlantic salmon and herring tend to be specialised for the size and distribution characteristics of a single species. Most UK vessels are less than 12m long, nets may be 350 to 450 m and mesh size around 55 to 65 mm.

There is no evidence of bycatch or habitat impacts, but a 2013 report found that all of the UK driftnet fisheries in the North-East Atlantic were in or close to Special Protected Areas for overwintering or breeding bird species. These included overwintering populations of species that might interact with driftnets based on their feeding behaviour, such as great crested grebe, cormorant, and red-breasted merganser, and breeding populations of Manx shearwater, guillemot, and razorbill.

Because of their durability (driftnets are made of nylon), if lost the net can continue to fish, a phenomenon known as ‘ghost fishing’. The minimum landing size for herring in EU waters is 20cm (18cm in Skagerrak/Kattegat), and maturity is at around 17cm.


Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Anchovy, anchovies
Arctic char
Herring or sild
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
Trout, Rainbow
Tuna, albacore
Tuna, skipjack
Tuna, yellowfin


ICES. 2019. EU request to report on the implementation of the Baltic Sea Multiannual Plan. In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, sr.2019.15, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.5459. Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/Special_Requests/eu.2019.15.pdf [Accessed on 22.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Herring (Clupea harengus) in Subarea 4 and divisions 3.a and 7.d, autumn spawners (North Sea, Skagerrak and Kattegat, eastern English Channel). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, her.27.3a47d, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4716. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/her.27.3a47d.pdf [Accessed on 02.07.2019].

Seafish, 2018. RASS Profile: North Sea autumn spawning herring; North Sea, Skagerrak and Eastern English Channel (Subarea 4 and Divisions 3a and 7d), Pelagic otter trawl. Available at https://www.seafish.org/risk-assessment-for-sourcing-seafood/profile/north-sea-autumn-spawning-herring-north-sea-skagerrak-and-eastern-english-channel-subarea-4-and-divisions-3a-and-7d-pelagic-otter-trawl [Accessed on 02.07.2019]

WWF, 2019. Remote Electronic Monitoring in UK Fisheries Management 2017. Available at https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2017-10/Remote%20Electronic%20Monitoring%20in%20UK%20Fisheries%20Management_WWF.pdf [Accessed on 02.07.2019].

EU, 2014. Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL laying down a prohibition on driftnet fisheries. Available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM:2014:265:FIN [Accessed on 26.07.2019].

NFFO, 2014. News: Drift net ban pushed onto back burner. Available at https://nffo.org.uk/news/drift-net-ban-pushed-onto-back-burner.html [Accessed on 26.07.2019].

Sala, A., 2015. Alternative Solutions for Driftnet Fisheries. Report IP/B/PECH/IC/2014-082 for European Parliament's Committee on Fisheries. 90pp. Available at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2015/540345/IPOL_STU(2015)540345_EN.pdf [Accessed on 26.07.2019].