Herring or sild

Clupea harengus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pelagic trawl, Purse seine
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Baltic Sea (West), Skagerrak and Kattegat: Western Baltic Spring Spawners
Stock detail — 3a-d (subdivisions 20-24)
Picture of Herring or sild

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated: June 2020.

Default red rating: Western Baltic Spring Spawning (WBSS) herring is at critically low levels and the advice has been for zero catch since 2019. However, there is no recovery plan in place to increase the stock size, and catches continue in this fishery and within the North Sea Autumn Spawning (NSAS) fishery, which has a bycatch of the WBSS stock. This results in this rating receiving a Critical Fail with regard to stock status and management.


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: Critical Fail info

The stock is at a critical level and fishing pressure remains above sustainable limits, while continuing against advice.

The spawning stock biomass (SSB) has been below the biomass limit (Blim) (120,000 tonnes) since 2007. SSB has dropped to <50% of Blim, decreasing from 74,132 tonnes in 2018 to 57,124 tonnes in 2020. Fishing mortality (F) has increased (0.38) since 2014 and remains well above the Maximum Sustainable Yield (FMSY) of 0.31. Recruitment has been low since the mid-2000s.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches should be zero in 2021. This advice applies to the catch of Western Baltic Spring Spawning (WBSS) herring stock in subdivisions 20-24 and the eastern part of Subarea 4. All catch scenarios, including zero catch, result in SSB remaining below Blim in 2022.

ICES has provided estimates of the estimated catches of WBSS herring (Clupea harengus), under the assumption that only the fleets that target other species or stocks will be fishing in 2021. For herring (Clupea harengus) in subdivisions 20–24, 3,308 tonnes of spring spawners (Skagerrak, Kattegat, and western Baltic) are estimated to be caught, assuming the same catch as in the intermediate year 2020 for the human-consumption fleet in the North Sea (fleet A), which targets North Sea autumn-spawning herring, and for fleet D, which targets sprat.

Herring populations form a continuous chain extending from the North Sea to the northernmost parts of the Baltic Sea. The herring assessed in the western Baltic (3a.20-24) is a complex mixture of populations predominantly spawning in the spring, but with local components also spawning in autumn and winter. The population dynamics and the relative contribution of these components is presently unknown, but are likely to affect the precision of the assessment. Moreover, mixing between WBSS and central Baltic herring in within subdivisions may contribute to uncertainty in the assessment. WBSS migrate to feeding areas in the Kattegat, Skagerrak and the eastern part the North Sea, where they mix with the North Sea herring.


There are no management measures in place for this fishery. The stock is significantly decreasing and at critically low levels. Catches continue against scientific advice.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, there should be zero catch in 2021.

ICES recommends that a rebuilding plan for Western Baltic Spring Spawning (WBSS) herring is developed, but no plan is currently in place despite the stocks critically low levels.

An EU Baltic Sea Multiannual Plan was established in 2016 and applies to this stock, yet, this plan is not adopted by Norway with whom the stock is shared. There is an agreed Total Allowable Catch (TAC)-setting procedure between the EU and Norway to which it is regulated (one for herring catches in Division 3a and one for subdivisions 22–24). The EU-Norway agreement on a herring TAC in Division 3a (human consumption fleet) was 29,326 and 24,528 tonnes in 2019 and 2020, respectively. In 2019 and 2020, a bycatch ceiling of 6,659 tonnes was set for the small mesh fishery. Prior to 2006, no separate TAC for subdivisions 22–24 was set. In 2019, a TAC of 9,001 tonnes was set on the Western Baltic stock component, and 3,150 tonnes in 2020, despite catch advise being set at zero from 2019. Between 2015-2016 catches in subdivisions 22-24 were in line with the TAC, however, from 2018 catches have been above the TAC. In 2019 and 2020 catches have been ~10% above the TAC. The TAC has decreased from 28,401 in 2017 to 3,150 for 2020.

This stock is caught across three different management units and recovery will be impaired if catches of this stock are not minimized in all units. This fishery overlaps with the North Sea Autumn Spawning (NSAS) herring fishery, where fisheries are divided into 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. TACs and advice are tailored to the different components. Without additional area and/or time restrictions on the herring fishery in the North Sea in 2020, a catch of WBSS in the North Sea will be inevitable (it is estimated that 21% of the 2020 total catches from the stock are taken in Division 4a). For the other two areas, catch shares in 2020 are estimated to be 59% for subdivisions 20–21 and 20% for subdivisions 22–24. A zero catch was recommended for fleets C and D for NSAS herring 2019-2021 to avoid the bycatch of WBSS herring, but this advice has not been followed to date.

Beyond TACs, harvesting of WBSS herring is also controlled through an EU Minimum Landing Size (MLS) of 18cm in Skagerrak/Kattegat (1cm above size at maturity). 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.

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

Western Baltic Spring Spawning (WBSS) herring are caught by pelagic trawls and purse seiners in the Skagerrak and Kattegat, in the western Baltic Sea.

In the Western Baltic, herring is mainly exploited in the open sea by pelagic trawls (single and pair trawls) and purse seiners also participate. The directed fishery makes up >99.6% of herring catches, while, incidental catch of non-target species (bycatch) is low (0.4%); 2019. Where incidental catch does occur species may include North Sea Autumn Spawning (NSAS) herring and sprat.

The pelagic fisheries on herring are deemed to be some of the cleanest fisheries in terms of bycatch, disturbance of the seabed and discarding. The pelagic spring spawning herring fishery in the Western Baltic (Skagerrak and Kattegat) has little impact upon the seabed, although seabed contact can sometimes occur. Purse seine and pelagic trawls can be associated with bycatch of marine mammals. Nonetheless, bycatch of sea mammals and birds within this fishery is low enough to be below detection levels based on observer programmes. Thus, interactions with Protected, Endangered or Threatened Species is considered to be negligible.

Pelagic fish interact with other components of the ecosystem, including demersal fish, zooplankton and other predators (sea mammals, elasmobranchs and seabirds). Thus, a fishery on pelagic fish may impact on these other components via second order interactions. There is a paucity of knowledge of these interactions, and the inherent complexity in the system makes quantifying the impact of fisheries very difficult.

Another potential impact of the Western Baltic herring fishery is the removal of fish that could provide other ecosystem services. The ecosystem needs a biomass of herring to graze the plankton and act as prey for other organisms. If herring biomass is very low other species, such as sandeel, may replace its role or the system may shift in a more dramatic way. There is, however, no recent research on the multispecies interactions in the food web in which the WBSS interact.


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 (Clupea harengus) in subdivisions 20–24, spring spawners (Skagerrak, Kattegat, and western Baltic). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, her.27.20-24, https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5928. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2020/2020/her.27.20-24.pdf [Accessed 17.06.2020]

ICES (2020). Herring in Division 3.a and subdivisions 22–24, spring spawners (Update Assessment). In Herring Assessment Working Group for the Area South of 62°N (HAWG), Section 3. In prep. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2020/HAWG/5%20HAWG%20Report%202020_Sec%203%20Herring%20in%20Division%203a%20and%20subdivisions%2022%E2%80%9324.pdf [Accessed 18.06.2020]

ICES (2020). ICES Technical Service, Baltic Sea and Greater North Sea ecoregions, EU standing request on catch scenarios for zero TAC stocks 2020; western Baltic spring-spawning herring (Clupea harengus), published 29 May 2020. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2020/Special_Requests/eu.2020.05b.pdf [Accessed 17.06.2020]

Trijoulet, V. (2019). Stock Annex: Herring (Clupea harengus) in subdivisions 20–24, spring spawners (Skagerrak, Kattegat, and western Baltic). Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Stock%20Annexes/2019/her.27.20-24_SA.pdf [Accessed 17.06.2020]

WWF (2019). Remote Electronic Monitoring in UK Fisheries Management 2017. WWF-UK, Surrey, pp.6-38. Available at https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2017-10/Remote%20Electronic%20Monitoring%20in%20UK%20Fisheries%20Management_WWF.pdf [Accessed on 16.06.2020]