Herring or sild
Capture method — Pelagic trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — West of Scotland, West of Ireland
Stock detail — 6a, 7b, 7c
Updated: July 2019.
Default red rating: Scientists advise that there should be no fishing for herring in this area as the stock is depleted. Current fishing effort is for scientific sampling to try to improve understanding of the stocks in this area. There is no recovery plan in place, although one is being developed. Fishing on this stock has low levels of bycatch and little or no habitat impact. Scientific advice is to avoid negative impacts on the spawning habitat of herring, unless the effects of these activities have been assessed and shown not to be detrimental to the stock. There has been an increase in marine anthropogenic activity, especially in the area of marine renewables. The construction and development of wind farms, for example, results in disturbance to the seabed, as does aggregate extraction. Gravel is an essential habitat for spawning herring. Owing to the stock being below Blim (the level at which the stock’s ability to reproduce may be impaired) with no precautionary recovery plan in place, this rating receives a Critical Fail.
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
West of Scotland, West of Ireland
This is a data limited stock, and does not have reference points. It would appear that the stock size is below sustainable limits, while fishing pressure seems to be at a stable level. This species has medium resilience to fishing pressure.
Both spawning-stock biomass (SSB) and Recruitment (R) have been declining since around 2000 and are at their lowest level in the time series. Fishing mortality (F) has reduced since 2016 when catches have been limited to a monitoring TAC.
ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, there should be zero catch in 2020. This is because SSB is close to the lowest level on record, and is likely to remain so in 2020.
The information presented here represents two stocks (herring in Division 6a north, and herring in divisions 6a south and 7b-c) assessed as one. This is because it is not possible to segregate them in commercial catches or surveys. However, trying to combine the assessment does make it more uncertain.
There was a new assessment of this stock in 2019, which shows a very different perception of the trajectory of the stock status. The SSB has been significantly revised downwards and F has been revised upwards. Recruitment has also been revised downwards. However, the perception of the current state of the stock is unchanged compared to previous assessments.
There is no agreed precautionary management plan or recovery plan for herring in this area. Scientific advice is for 0 catches for this stock, but a scientific fishery is in place and there is a TAC. Assignment of a TAC when there is zero catch advice results in a default red-rating by MCS.
Two herring stocks in this area - herring in Division 6a north, and herring in divisions 6a south and 7b-c - are assessed as one. This is because it is not possible to segregate them in commercial catches or surveys. A proposed rebuilding plan, which contained provisions for a monitoring TAC while the combined stocks remain below Blim, was evaluated by ICES in 2017. A key aim of the plan was to provide sampling opportunities for assessment and stock discrimination, whilst ensuring that the stock can be rebuilt. However, the plan was found not to be precautionary. A revised version of the plan was submitted to ICES by the European Commission in 2018 but has not been evaluated. ICES considers it important to develop a stock recovery plan for herring in divisions 6.a and 7.b-c, but the continued uncertainty in the quality of the assessment and stock mixing need to be resolved in order to enable the evaluation of a rebuilding plan. The industry, in conjunction with the Pelagic Advisory Council, initiated a major genetic research programme in 2016 that aimed to obtain existing information on stock mixing in divisions 6.a and 7.b-c. Preliminary analyses from the study indicated that the 6aN and 6aS / 7b-c herring stocks represent two genetically-distinct populations. This project is now being developed further, with results due in 2020. There is a clear need to determine the relative stock sizes and to ensure that the smaller / weaker stock is adequately assessed and protected from over-exploitation.
In April 2016, ICES issued advice for a scientific monitoring fishery that could be obtained through a catch of 4,840 tonnes for herring in this area, at the request of the European Commission. The EC established a monitoring TAC of 5,800 tonnes in 2016, which has been in place since then. It was exceeded in 2016 (by 20%) and 2017 (by 10%). Discards of this stock are negligible.
Scientific advice is to avoid negative impacts on the spawning habitat of herring, unless the effects of these activities have been assessed and shown not to be detrimental to the stock. There has been an increase in marine anthropogenic activity, especially in the area of marine renewables. The construction and development of wind farms, for example, results in disturbance to the seabed, as does aggregate extraction. Gravel is an essential habitat for spawning herring.
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).
Catches in this area are taken by domestic Scottish and Northern Irish trawl and purse seine fleets, pair trawlers and by international freezer-trawlers, many of which are Dutch owned. Human consumption herring fisheries are generally clean in relative terms and have little or no impact upon the seabed. Observer programmes have found that discarding of herring is very low in these areas. No cetacean bycatch has been observed in this fishery but there are occasional catches of seals. The minimum landing size for herring in EU waters is 20cm (18cm in Skagerrak/Kattegat), maturity is at around 17cm.
Herring are an important forage fish, and important planktivores, and are an integral part of the ecosystem. Ecosystem models of the West of Scotland show herring to be an important mid-trophic level species along with sprat, sandeel, and horse mackerel. They also predate on fish eggs, such as cod, and recent work suggests a link between herring biomass and North Sea cod. It is difficult to predict the impact of increasing or reducing the herring biomass on the ecosystem functioning as a whole. Impacts from changes in productivity from environmental drivers are likely to be widely felt.
Research suggests that herring recruitment is better in cooler temperatures, so any increases in sea surface temperature could have negative impacts on the stock.
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
Herring or sild
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
ReferencesFroese R. and Pauly D. (Editors), 2019. Clupea harengus, Atlantic herring. Available at: https://www.fishbase.se/summary/Clupea-harengus.html [Accessed on 17.07.2019].
ICES. 2019. Herring Assessment Working Group for the Area South of 62degrees N (HAWG). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:2. http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.5460. Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2019/HAWG/01%20HAWG%20Report%202019.pdf [Accessed on 16.07.2019].
ICES, 2019. Herring (Clupea harengus) in divisions 6.a and 7.b-c (West of Scotland, West of Ireland). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, her.27.6a7bc https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.4717. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/her.27.6a7bc.pdf [Accessed on 17.07.2019].