Sprat, whitebait

Sprattus sprattus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pelagic trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Baltic Sea
Stock detail — Subdivisions 22-32
Picture of Sprat, whitebait

Sustainability rating one info

Sustainability overview

Sprat in the Baltic is at a healthy level and fishing pressure at a sustainable level. Sprat is short-lived and an important prey fish for many marine species. The effects of the sprat fishery on these species is unknown. Sprat biomass in the Baltic is strongly dependent on the overlap with the cod stock through predator-prey interactions.


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 info

Stock Area

Baltic 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 spawning-stock biomass (SSB) for the Baltic stock is well above MSY Btrigger. The recent increase in SSB is attributable to the strong year class of 2014. The 2015 and 2016 year classes are estimated slightly below average. Fishing mortality (F) has declined in recent years and is now below FMSY. ICES advises catches in 2018 between 219 152 tonnes and 301 722 tonnes.


Criterion score: 0.25 info

The International Baltic Sea Fishery Commission (IBSFC) long-term management plan for the Baltic sprat stock was terminated in 2006 and has not been replaced. Sprats are only subject to quota in the North Sea (ICES Area IV) and in ICES Areas IIIa, VIId and VIIe and the Baltic. A multiannual fisheries management plan for the Baltic Sea applies to cod, herring and sprat stocks. An obligation to land all catches of cod, herring, sprat and plaice coming from these fisheries is included in the plan except in circumstances where there is evidence of high survival rates. The specific objective of the plan is to ensure that the Baltic stocks of cod, herring and sprat are exploited in a sustainable way according to the principles of maximum sustainable yield and of the ecosystem approach to fisheries management. Spawning closures consist of two closed seasons (1-30 April in the Western Baltic, and 1 July to 31 August in the southern part of the Eastern Baltic), and three smaller areas in the Eastern Baltic which are closed 1 May to 31 October. Fishing pressure on sprat in the main cod distribution area has increased reducing prey availability to cod. Restrictions on sprat catches taken in the main cod area are recommended to ensure against food deprivation for cod.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

Most of the catch is taken by pelagic trawlers. Discarding is 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


Casini, M et al. (2016). Hypoxic areas, density-dependence and food limitation drive the body condition of a heavily exploited marine fish predator. Royal Society Open Science, 3: 160416. 15 pp.doi: 10.1098/rsos.160416I
ICES (2017) Advice http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2017/2017/spr.27.22%E2%80%9332.pdf
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meetdocs/2014_2019/documents/com/com_com(2014)0614_/com_com(2014)0614_en.pdf (Last accessed July 2017)