Herring or sild
Capture method — Gill or fixed net
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Baltic Sea (West), Skagerrak and Kattegat
Stock detail — Western Baltic Spring Spawners: 3a.20-24
Updated July 2019
Default red rating. Western Baltic Spring Spawning (WBSS) herring stock is at a very low level and the advice is for zero catch in 2019 and 2020. However, there is no recovery plan to increase the stock size, and catches continue in this fishery and in 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.
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.
Criterion score: Default red rating info
Baltic Sea (West), Skagerrak and Kattegat
The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has been below Blim (120,000 tonnes) since 2007. In 2018 it was 74,132t and is predicted to be even lower in 2019, at 69,743t. The stock would be considered to be in a good state at MSY Btrigger, which is 150,000t. Fishing mortality (F) has increased since 2014 and remains well above FMSY (0.31): in 2018, F was 0.42. Recruitment has been low since the mid-2000s.
ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, there should be zero catch in 2020. This advice applies to the catch of western Baltic spring spawning herring (WBSS) in subdivisions 20-24 and the eastern part of Subarea 4. All catch scenarios, including zero catch, result in SSB remaining below Blim in 2021.
According to the forecasts, the implemented TAC in 2019 is expected to lead to a significant reduction in F, but will result in only a small increase in SSB by 2020.
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 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 subdivisions 22-24 may contribute to uncertainty in the assessment. WBSS migrate to feeding areas in the Kattegat, Skagerrak and the eastern part of the North Sea, where they mix with the North Sea herring.
ICES recommends that a rebuilding plan for WBSS herring is developed, but one is not currently in place despite the very low level of the stock. This results in a Critical Fail for this rating, resulting in a default red rating.
An EU Baltic Sea Multiannual Plan was established in 2016 and applies to this stock. This plan is not adopted by Norway with whom the stock is shared, but there is an agreed TAC-setting procedure between the EU and Norway.
This fishery overlaps with the North Sea Autumn Spawning (NSAS) fishery, and the 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. Approximately 5.7% of A-fleet catch is WBSS herring, and 41% of C-fleet catch. In the North Sea in 2018 this equated to 2,164t, and without additional area and/or time restrictions in 2020, a similar catch of WBSS in the North Sea will be inevitable. For C-Fleet, it equated to 19,751 tonnes. Zero catch was recommended for C and D fleets fishing for NSAS herring in 2019 and 2020, to avoid the bycatch of WBSS herring, but this advice was not followed in 2019.
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).
In the Baltic, herring is mainly exploited in the open sea by pelagic trawls (single and pair trawls), and in coastal waters during spawning time, by trapnets, pound-nets and gillnets. Gillnets cannot be specifically targeted to give clean catches of cod and a wide range of other species can become enmeshed, particularly in demersal set gillnets. In the Baltic Sea there are concerns about the bycatch rates of flatfish and juvenile cod. Harbour porpoise are highly prone to bycatch in bottom-set gillnets, due largely to their feeding habits on or near the seabed. Dead harbour porpoises exhibiting evidence of gillnet entanglements are found and reported regularly, so it is likely that bycatch in gillnets is adversely affecting the critically endangered central Baltic Sea population. Studies conducted between 1980 and 2005 indicated that at least 76 000 birds, mostly sea ducks, were killed annually in Baltic Sea gillnets. This number may have declined in more recent years, probably due to the consequential decline in sea duck populations. Because of their durability (gillnets are made of nylon), if lost the net can continue to fish, a phenomenon known as ‘ghost fishing’.
Drifting gillnets have been banned in the Baltic Sea since 2008. The minimum landing size for herring in EU waters is 20cm (18cm in Skagerrak/Kattegat), maturity is at around 17cm.
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