Herring or sild

Clupea harengus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pelagic trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Baltic Sea (Central)
Stock detail — 25-29, 32 (excluding Gulf of Riga)
Picture of Herring or sild

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated July 2019

The stock is not in an overfished state, but has been subject to overfishing since 2016. However, as the large 2014 year class moves through the stock, biomass will start to reduce; the beginnings of this is being seen in 2019 and 2020. This 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 seem to be in line with advice. Discarding is negligible. Baltic Sea herring are taken alongside sprat in pelagic trawls, which have few, if any, habitat impacts as they don’t make contact with the seabed. The bycatch level of other species, such as juvenile cod, is unknown. Sprat and herring are important prey species for cod, and therefore reducing sprat and herring fishing pressure in areas where Baltic cod is most common could reduce pressure on the cod stock.


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: 0.25 info

Stock Area

Baltic Sea (Central)

Stock information

The stock is not in an overfished state, but has been subject to overfishing since 2016.

Spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has shown an increasing trend since 2001, and has been above MSY Btrigger (600,000 tonnes) since 2007. In 2018 it peaked at 938,281t, but in 2019 is predicted to have fallen slightly to 844,663t. Fishing mortality has shown an increasing trend since 2013 and has been above FMSY (0.22) since 2016: in 2018 it was 0.29 - the highest since 2002 but below Fpa (0.41). Recruitment in 2015 is estimated to be the highest of the whole time-series, but in the last four years it has been below or at the average.

ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) is applied, catches in 2020 that correspond to the F ranges in the plan are between 130,546 tonnes and 214,553 tonnes. According to the MAP, catches higher than those corresponding to FMSY (173,975 tonnes) can only be taken under conditions specified in the MAP, whilst the entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule. This advice applies to all catches from the stock, including those taken in Subdivision 28.1 (Gulf of Riga). It is a 12% increase on the previous year because of the upward revision of SSB and a downward revision of F in this year’s assessment. This is partly owing to imprecise estimates of the 2014 year class and species misreporting (misidentification of sprat as herring). However, the biomass is expected to decline in the coming years because no substantial year classes have recruited to the stock since the large 2014 year class. This decline has already started to occur in 2019 and 2020.

Herring populations form a continuous chain extending from the North Sea to the northernmost parts of the Baltic Sea. In the Baltic sea there are 6 stocks or populations, identified on a biological basis and on the ability to allocate catches to stocks. These are: Central Baltic (Sub-divisions 25-29+32), the largest stock; Western Baltic (Sub-divisions 22-24), mainly spring-spawning; and Eastern Baltic, assessed as four stocks: sub-divisions 25-29 & 32; Gulf of Riga; Gulf of Bothnia sub-division 30; and Gulf of Bothnia sub-division 31. Management of the herring stocks is not possible on 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.


Criterion score: 0.5 info

This stock is covered by the EU Baltic Sea Multi Annual management Plan (MAP), and 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 2020 should be no more than 173,975 tonnes, the corresponding TAC in the central Baltic management area would be 169,912 tonnes. While this means there is a mismatch between TACs and advice, TACs for the last 5 years have been set in line with advice, and catches from 2015-2018 averaged 93% of the TAC.

Discarding is considered negligible.

The large 2014 year class will be the main contributor to the yield in 2019 and 2020 and SSB in 2020 (to a lesser extend in 2021), and no substantial new incoming year classes are predicted. It is uncommon to see such large contribution of one year class to the SSB, and this makes the stock more vulnerable to over-exploitation. The last four year classes are below or on average and if such low recruitment continues, a marked decline in biomass can be expected in the coming years.

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

Pelagic stocks in the Baltic Sea (in subdivisions 25-29 and 32) are mainly taken in pelagic trawl fisheries, most of which take herring and sprat simultaneously. Herring is also taken in coastal waters during spawning time by trapnets, pound-nets, and gillnets. Static nets in the Baltic are known to impact the harbour porpoise population, grey seals and a variety of diving waterbirds, and pelagic trawls can be associated with cetacean bycatch. The minimum landing size for herring in EU waters is 20cm (18cm in Skagerrak/Kattegat). Maturity is at around 17cm. As the fisheries in this area also take sprat, misreporting has been an issue, and has affected the assessment for this stock in the past. Recent legislation has forced catches to be sorted before landing, but the approach to this has been very 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 and 26 and shows bad growth conditions probably due to 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 is more abundant could help to mitigate this issue.

Pelagic trawls do not regularly come into contact with the seabed, so there are few habitat impacts from this fishery.


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


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 on 11.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Baltic Fisheries Assessment Working Group (WGBFAS). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:20. 651 pp. doi: 10.17895/ices.pub.5256. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2019/WGBFAS/1%20WGBFAS%202019.pdf [Accessed on 11.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Herring (Clupea harengus) in subdivisions 25-29 and 32, excluding the Gulf of Riga (central Baltic Sea). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019, her.27.25-2932, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4748. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/her.27.25-2932.pdf [Accessed on 25.07.2019].

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP). European sprat Baltic Sea. FishSource profile. In: FishSource [online]. Updated 20 August 2018. Available at https://www.fishsource.org/stock_page/1833 [Accessed 10.07.2019].