Sprat, whitebait

Sprattus sprattus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pelagic trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea
Stock detail — IV
Picture of Sprat, whitebait

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Sprat in the North Sea is healthy but fishing pressure is undefined. Sprat is short-lived species and an important prey fish for many marine species. The effects of the sprat fishery on these species is unknown and concern has been expressed about the preservation of inshore sprat as a food resource for breeding birds. Sprat are also under pressure from industrial fisheries. With high removals and current uncertainty in status, sprat reduction fisheries, without proper stock assessment and management, are likely much less sustainable. Sprat is usually caught with bycatches of juvenile herring.


Sprat is a relatively short-lived species. It is one of the most important prey species in marine ecosystems, for both fish, seabirds and marine mammals. It is a pelagic inshore schooling species that can tolerate low salinities. Sprat migrates between winter feeding and summer spawning grounds. Moves to the surface at night. High resilience to fishing pressure. Maximum size 16 cm. Sprat are multiple batch spawners, with females spawning repeatedly throughout the spawning season (up to 10 times in some areas). Spawning occurs in both coastal and offshore waters, during spring and late summer, with peak spawning between May and June, depending on water temperature. Spawning generally takes place at night. Sprat generally first spawn at 2 years of age, though a small proportion of the population spawn at 1 year of age.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Stock Area

North Sea

Stock information

Distinct sprat stocks exist in the North, Baltic and Celtic Seas, West of Scotland, English Channel and the Skagerrak and Kattegat areas. There is no formal stock assessment for the species in these areas except for in the North and Baltic Seas. The North Sea stock is the second largest sprat stock in the Northeast Atlantic. It is shorter-lived than the Baltic stock, and spawns very early, thus the majority of the stock is made up of adult fish. The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has been at or above MSY Bescapement since 2013. Fishing mortality (F) has been higher in the last two years. Recruitment (R) in 2016 is estimated to be the highest on record, but with substantial uncertainty. ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in the period from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018 should be no more than 170 387 tonnes.


Criterion score: 0.25 info

There is no management plan for sprat in this area; however, the within-year TAC setting rule has been evaluated by ICES to be precautionary and consistent with the ICES MSY approach.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

The majority of landings of sprat from the North Sea are taken in the Danish industrial fishery. In this fishery there is a permitted 10% bycatch of herring. Recent increases in North Sea herring have further limited the fishery for sprat due to the bycatch limit on herring within the fishery. The bycatch percentage of herring in landings monitored by the control agencies often reach more than the 20% limit. Until 2015, catches of sprat with a bycatch higher than this limit were not allowed to be landed. Landings are 99% pelagic trawl. Discards of sprat are negligible.


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
Sprat, whitebait
Trout, Rainbow
Tuna, albacore
Tuna, bigeye
Tuna, skipjack
Tuna, yellowfin


ICES Advice 2017 http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2017/2017/spr.27.4.pdf