Atlantic Herring

About The Species

U.S. wild-caught Atlantic herring is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population Level

Above target population levels.

Fishing Status

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impact

Fishing gears used to harvest Atlantic herring have minimal impacts on habitat.


Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.


  • According to the 2015 stock assessment, Atlantic herring are not overfished and are not subject to overfishing.
  • In that assessment scientists used spawning stock biomass (the amount of fish in the population capable of reproducing) to estimate the Atlantic herring population at 517,930 metric tons, which is well above the target level of 157,000 metric tons.
  • Herring populations are naturally highly variable, possibly due to changing environmental conditions.
  • Atlantic herring are small schooling fish.
  • They are silvery in color, with a bluish or greenish-blue back.
Behavior and Diet
  • Atlantic herring are one of nearly 200 herring species in the family Clupeidae.
  • They grow quickly, up to 14 inches.
  • They can live up to 15 years.
  • They are able to reproduce when they reach age 4.
  • Atlantic herring migrate in schools to areas where they feed, spawn, and spend the winter.
  • They spawn as early as August in Nova Scotia and eastern Maine and from October through November in the southern Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and Nantucket Shoals.
  • Female herring can produce 30,000 to 200,000 eggs.
  • They deposit their eggs on rock, gravel, or sand ocean bottom.
  • Schools of herring can produce so many eggs that they cover the ocean bottom in a dense carpet of eggs several centimeters thick.
  • The eggs usually hatch in 7 to 10 days, depending on temperature.
  • By late spring, larvae grow into juvenile herring, which form large schools in coastal waters during the summer.
  • Atlantic herring is an important species in the food web of the northwest Atlantic Ocean.
  • A variety of bottom-dwelling fish—including winter flounder, cod, haddock, and red hake—feed on herring eggs.
  • Juvenile herring are heavily preyed upon due to their abundance and small size. A number of fish, sharks, skates, marine mammals, and seabirds prey on herring.
  • Atlantic herring feed on zooplankton (tiny floating animals), krill, and fish larvae.
Location Description

Atlantic herring are found on both sides of the North Atlantic. In the western North Atlantic they are found from Labrador to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

  • The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission coordinates management of the herring fishery in state waters, and the New England Fishery Management Council manages the fishery in federal waters. The two entities develop their regulations in close coordination. Individual states are responsible for implementing regulations recommended by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and NOAA Fisheries is responsible for implementing regulations recommended by the New England Fishery Management Council.
  • Managed under the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan and Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Herring:
    • An annual catch limit for the entire herring fishery based upon scientific information on the status of the stock.
    • Managers divide the catch limit into four area-specific limits. When an area-specific limit is reached, the directed fishery in that area is prohibited and only incidental catches of herring are allowed.
    • A limited access permit program limits the number of vessels that can participate in the directed fishery for herring. Vessels that do not qualify for a limited access permit can be issued an open access permit, allowing them to harvest a small amount of herring (6,600 pounds) per day or per trip.
    • Limits on the amount of herring a vessel can possess in one day or on one trip, depending on the type of permit.
    • The Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Herring contains measures that close areas to herring fishing when herring are spawning.