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 (Central)
Stock detail — 3d (subdivisions 25-29 and 32) excluding Gulf of Riga
Picture of Herring or sild

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Updated: June 2020.

The stock is in an overfished state and subject to overfishing. The spawning stock biomass has decreased due to a combination of factors including, rising fishing pressure. The stock is covered by the Baltic Sea Multiannual Plan, and there are agreed quotas between the EU and Russia. There is a slight mismatch between stock area and quota area, but in general, Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and landings have been in line with advice. Discarding is negligible.

This is a well targeted fishery and Baltic Sea herring are predominantly taken alongside sprat in pelagic trawls, which have few, if any, habitat impacts as they do not make contact with the seabed. Purse seiners, gillnetters and trapnet fisheries also participate in the herring fishery but represent marginal volumes in comparison. Sprat and herring are important prey species for cod, and therefore reducing sprat and herring fishing pressure in the areas where Baltic cod are most common could reduce pressure on the cod stock. Central Baltic static net herring fisheries are contributing to population declines of the Baltic harbour porpoise population.


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: 1 info

The stock is in an overfished state and subject to overfishing.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has shown a decreasing trend since 2014 and is below MSY Btrigger (460,000 tonnes) in 2020. SSB has decreased >30% from 2015 to 2020, from 651,058 to 449,702 tonnes, respectively. In 2020 the ratio of B:BMSY was 0.97. Fishing mortality (F) has increased (0.45) since 2014 and F has been above the Maximum Sustainable Yield (FMSY) (0.21) since 2015. In 2019 the ratio of F:FMSY was 2.1. High recruitment in 2015 was followed by four years of below average or average recruitment. However, recruitment in 2020 is above the long term average.

ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for the Baltic Sea is applied, catches in 2021 that correspond to the F ranges in the plan are between 83,971 tonnes and 138,183 tonnes. According to the MAP, catches above 111,852 tonnes can only be taken under conditions specified in the MAP, whilst the entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule. The advice applies to all catches from the stock, including those taken in Subdivision 28.1 (Gulf of Riga). This is a decrease in catch advice from the previous year, due to the decreasing stock size and increase in fishing pressure. Decline in biomass may be owing to low levels of recruitment since 2015 and increasing exploitation.

Herring populations form a continuous chain extending from the North Sea to the northernmost parts of the Baltic Sea. In the Baltic there are six herring stocks or populations, identified on a biological basis and on the ability to allocate catches to stocks. These are: Central Baltic (subdivisions 25-29 and 32), the largest stock; Western Baltic (subdivisions 22-24), mainly spring-spawning; and Eastern Baltic, assessed as four stocks: subdivisions 25-29 and 32; Gulf of Riga; Gulf of Bothnia subdivision 30; and Gulf of Bothnia subdivision 31. Management of the herring stocks is not possible on a population by population basis. Western Baltic Spring-Spawning herring and Central Baltic herring (25-29 and 32, excluding Gulf of Riga herring) are mixing in subdivisions 24-26, but the level of this mixing and its impact on the assessment are presently unknown.

The stock assessment underwent a interbenchmark in March 2020, resulting in a very different perception of the stock and its reference points. MSY Btrigger was reduced from 600,000 tonnes in 2019 to 460,000 tonnes in 2020. SSB is now considered to be much smaller, in 2019 SSB was predicted to be 844,663 tonnes, while in 2020 SSB was estimated at 501,973 tonnes. Meanwhile, fishing pressure (F) in the 2020 assessment is much higher than what was previously thought (F 2018 in the 2019 assessment was 0.29, but F 2018 in the 2020 assessment was 0.43). This gives a much less positive assessment of the stock status in 2020.


Criterion score: 0.5 info

There are management measures in place for this fishery which are partly effective in managing the stock.

The stock is shared between the EU and Russia, and covered by the EU Baltic Sea Multi Annual Management Plan (MAP). MAP advice is considered to be precautionary. However, Russia does not have a management plan in place for this stock. Although the MAP has not been adopted by Russia, joint Total Allowable Catches (TACs) are agreed between the two parties.

Some herring from this stock are caught outside of the Central Baltic Sea, and the assessment and advice include these herring. However, the shared TACs between the EU and Russia do not, potentially allowing overfishing of this stock. The TAC is based on: advised catch for the Central Baltic stock, plus assumed catch of herring from the Gulf of Riga stock caught in the Central Baltic (based on a 5-year average), minus assumed catch of Central Baltic herring caught in the Gulf of Riga (based on a 5-year average). Therefore, based on the advice that catches from the Central Baltic herring stock in 2021 should be no more than 114,169 tonnes, the corresponding TAC in the Central Baltic management area would be 108,177 tonnes. While this means there is a mismatch between TACs and catch advice, TACs for the last 5 years have mostly been set in line with advice. However, 2019 and 2020 TACs were set 29% and 5% above the catch advice, respectively. Compliance with TAC is high with catches averaging 95% of the TAC; 2015-2019. Given the ongoing increase in fishing pressure and decrease in stock, and the vulnerability of the stock owing to low recruitment, continued TAC setting above scientific advice would be of serious concern.

Discarding is considered negligible.

2021 catch advice is ~35% lower than 2020, owing to the decline in spawning stock biomass (SSB) below the maximum sustainable yield trigger point (MSY Btrigger). A result of increased fishing pressures and the significant contribution of one 2014-year class contributing to the SSB, making the stock more vulnerable to over-exploitation. It is expected that the large 2014-year class will still be the main contributor to the yields in 2020, but the size of the year class is uncertain and estimates have been revised downwards considerably since 2016. The stock status in the coming years will depend on the further development of the incoming stronger year class of 2019. It is predicted that the 2019-year class may contribute to a greater extent to the yield in 2021, and also to the SSB in 2021 and 2022.

Beyond TACs the fishery is managed by a Minimum Landing Size (MLS). The MLS for herring in EU waters is 20cm (18cm in Skagerrak/Kattegat). Maturity of herring ranges between 18-20cm within the region.

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 and purse seiners in the Central Baltic Sea.

Pelagic stocks in the Baltic Sea (in subdivisions 25-29 and 32) are mainly caught in pelagic trawl fisheries, most of which take herring and sprat simultaneously. Purse seiners also participate in herring catch, although the fishery is minor in comparison to the pelagic trawling fishery within the area. Incidental catch of non-target species (bycatch) is thought to be low. Where incidental catch does occur species may include cod or sprat.

The pelagic herring fisheries are deemed to be some of the cleanest fisheries in terms of bycatch, disturbance of the seabed and discarding. The pelagic herring fishery in the Central Baltic 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 has not been reported. Thus, interactions with Protected, Endangered or Threatened Species is considered to be negligible.

As the fisheries in this area also take sprat, species misreporting of herring has occurred in the past, and there are indications of sprat being misreported as herring. Recent legislation has forced catches to be sorted before landing, but the approach to this has been variable and might need further exploration. The bycatch level of other species such as juvenile cod is unknown. Currently, the eastern cod stock is concentrated in sub-divisions 25-26 and shows poor growth conditions, most likely due to the lack of food. This may be related to low abundance of herring in this area which is a prey species. Closures of the herring and sprat fisheries in areas where cod are more abundant could help mitigate this issue.


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]

EU (2016). Regulation (EU) 2016/1139 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2016 establishing a multiannual plan for the stocks of cod, herring and sprat in the Baltic Sea and the fisheries exploiting those stocks. Available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32016R1139 [Accessed 29.06.2020]

Grohsler, T. (2019). Stock Annex: Herring (Clupea harengus) in subdivisions 25–29 and 32, excluding the Gulf of Riga (central Baltic Sea). Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Stock%20Annexes/2019/her.27.25-2932_SA.pdf [Accessed 24.06.2020]

ICES (2019). Baltic Sea Ecoregion – Ecosystem overview. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/EcosystemOverview_BalticSea_2019.pdf [Accessed 24.06.2020]

ICES (2020). Baltic Fisheries Assessment Working Group (WGBFAS). ICES Scientific Reports, 2 (45), p.43. Doi: http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.6024. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2020/ICES%20WGBFAS%202020%20Report.pdf [Accessed 29.06.2020]

ICES (2020). EU request on emergency measures to prevent bycatch of common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) and Baltic Proper harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in the Northeast Atlantic. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2020/2020/eu.2020.04.pdf [Accessed 24.06.2020]

ICES (2020). Herring (Clupea harengus) in subdivisions 25–29 and 32, excluding the Gulf of Riga (central Baltic Sea). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, her.27.25-2932. Doi: https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5828. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2020/2020/her.27.25-2932.pdf [Accessed 24.06.2020]

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (2019). European sprat Baltic Sea. FishSource profit. In FishSource [online]. Updated 13 July 2019. Available at https://www.fishsource.org/stock_page/1833 [Accessed 29.06.2020]