Herring or sild

Clupea harengus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pelagic trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Irish Sea (North)
Stock detail — 7a North
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Herring or sild

Sustainability rating one info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

The stock is currently at its highest level and fishing mortality is within sustainable limits. There is no management plan in place, but there are plans to develop one. Pelagic pair trawling, as employed in this fishery, is generally a selective and low impact method of fishing. 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. The majority of this fishery is certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, and has been since 2014.


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 info

Stock Area

Irish Sea (North)

Stock information

The stock is in a very good state and fishing mortality is well within sustainable levels.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) in 2018 was 22,020 tonnes. It has been above MSY Btrigger (11,831t) since 2007. Fishing mortality (F) in 2018 was 0.156. It has decreased since 2003 and has been below FMSY (0.266) since 2007. There has been above average recruitment since 2006.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 8064 tonnes. This is a 16.9% increase on last year owing to a forecast growth in SSB.

Due to the presence of herring from other stocks in this area (including juveniles from the Celtic Sea), the assessment may overestimate the Irish Sea stock.


Criterion score: 0.25 info

There is no long term management strategy for this stock, although there are aspirations to develop one.

Recent Total Allowable Catches have been in line with advice, and catches as estimated by ICES are in line with TACs. TACs are split between the UK and Ireland.

It is known that juvenile Celtic Sea herring mix with the Irish Sea stock, which could have impacts for management and advice.

Discarding is considered to be 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.

Around 75% of this fishery is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. In order to keep the certification, this fishery must meet some specific requirements. 1: A management plan, with short- and long-term objectives and a Harvest Control Rule. A plan has been drafted by the fishing group, but it is not legally binding as the Brexit process has delayed the process of getting a formal EU Long Term Management Plan. 2: The plan should be subject to regular internal and occasional external review. The draft plan includes a review process. It now remains for the plan to be formally adopted and supported by the stakeholders within the unit of certification.

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

Almost all of the herring catch in the northern Irish Sea is by pelagic trawlers, mostly by the UK but also Ireland. In fact, most catches are by just one pair of pair-trawling boats.

Pelagic pair trawling is a well-targeted method, catching pre-spawning and spawning aggregations through acoustic detection. There is a very low risk of marine mammal bycatch, and mitigation measures include avoiding certain areas and periods where cetaceans are more likely, and using acoustic pingers as deterrents. There is no seabed contact, and therefore no risk to habitats.

To protect juveniles, herring fishing is banned in the Irish Sea along the east coast of Ireland and within 12 nautical miles of the west coast of Britain throughout the year, although gillnets are allowed within the Irish closed box. An area to east of the Isle of Man, encompassing the Douglas Bank spawning ground is closed during spawning season. Boats from the Republic of Ireland are not permitted to fish east of the Isle of Man.


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, Chinook, King Salmon
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Coho , Silver, White
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
Trout, Rainbow
Tuna, albacore
Tuna, bigeye
Tuna, skipjack
Tuna, yellowfin


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 12.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Herring (Clupea harengus) in Division 7.a North of 52-30degrees N (Irish Sea). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, her.27.nirs, https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.4719. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/her.27.nirs.pdf [Accessed on 12.07.2019].

MSC, 2019. Marine Stewardship Council Certification: Northern Ireland Pelagic Sustainability Group (NIPSG) Irish Sea herring. Available at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/northern-ireland-pelagic-sustainability-group-nipsg-irish-sea-herring/@@view [Accessed on 12.07.2019].

Seafish, 2017. RASS Profile: Herring in the Irish Sea (ICES division 7a, north of 52degrees-30degrees N), Pelagic trawl. Available at https://www.seafish.org/risk-assessment-for-sourcing-seafood/profile/herring-in-the-irish-sea-ices-division-7a-north-of-52o30-n-pelagic-trawl [Accessed on 12.07.2019]