This manual documents age determination techniques used by staff at the Woods Hole Laboratory to…
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.
Significantly below target population level. A rebuilding plan is being developed for the Atlantic herring stock.
At recommended levels.
Fishing gears used to harvest Atlantic herring have minimal impacts on habitat.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.
- According to the 2020 stock assessment, Atlantic herring are overfished, but not subject to overfishing. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
- Herring populations are naturally highly variable.
- Atlantic herring are small schooling fish.
- They are silvery in color, with a bluish or greenish-blue back.
- 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.
Where They Live
- 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.
- Catch reductions have been put in place for 2018-2021 to prevent overfishing and reduce the risk that the stock will become overfished.
- Commercial fishery:
- In 2020, commercial landings of Atlantic herring totaled approximately 21 million pounds and were valued at $6.8 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.
- During the past decade, the United States has accounted for 78 percent of the total herring harvest, with Canada harvesting the remainder.
- The Atlantic herring fishery is extremely valuable to the economy in the Northeast United States. Herring are sold frozen, salted, or canned as sardines in both U.S. and international markets and provide affordable bait to fishermen targeting lobster, blue crab, and tuna.
- Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
- Historically, Gulf of Maine herring were harvested along the coast in fixed-gear weirs (a fence of long stakes driven into the ground with nets arranged in a circle). Today, herring are primarily harvested by mid-water trawlers and purse seiners.
- Mid-water trawlers deploy and tow a net in the water column to catch schooling fish such as herring. The large front end of the net herds schooling fish toward the narrow back end, where they become trapped.
- Purse seiners catch schooling fish near the surface by encircling them with a net. When the net is around the school, fishermen lift up a wire that runs through the bottom of the net, closing the “purse” from below.
- Fisheries that harvest groundfish (such as cod and haddock) and herring operate in the same areas during the same seasons. Herring vessels may incidentally catch groundfish (mainly haddock). Managers set a cap on the amount of haddock that can be caught by the herring midwater trawl fishery.
- The Atlantic herring fishery can incidentally catch marine mammals. Currently, these takes are below limits that would require mitigation under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
- Management measures to reduce marine mammal interactions include research, outreach to educate fisherman about actions they can take in the event of a marine mammal interaction, and efforts to communicate interaction hotspots to fishermen.
Recreational Fishing Regulations
Commercial Fishing Regulations
Atlantic Herring Specifications and Possession Limits
2022 Atlantic Herring Specifications
Fishing year 2022 specifications were initially set through Framework Adjustment 8 to the Herring Fishery Management Plan (FMP), and were later adjusted through a January 2022 temporary rule. Please visit our Framework 8 regulatory action page for more information on fishery specifications.
Research Set-Aside (RSA)
Up to 3 percent of the herring ACL can be set aside for use in research.
2022 Research Set-Aside
No vessels are pursuing herring RSA in 2022. As a result, we did not specify RSA for 2022. Herring RSA will be revisited for fishing years the 2023-2025
Vessels fishing for herring that are less than 165 feet in length overall, less than 750 gross registered tons, or less than 3,000 shaft horsepower may be issued one of the herring permits listed below. Herring vessels exceeding the size and horsepower restrictions may be issued a herring at-sea processing permit.
|Permit Category||Description||Possession Limit|
|A||All Areas Limited Access||Unlimited in all areas|
|B||Areas 2/3 Limited Access||Unlimited in Areas 2/3|
|C||Incidental Catch Limited Access||55,000 lb per trip/day in all areas|
|D||Open Access*||6,600 lb per trip/day in all areas|
*Any vessel issued a limited access mackerel permit can be issued this herring open access permit
Possession Limit Adjustments
The possession limits in the table above apply unless one of the following possession limit adjustments are in effect:
- When 95 percent of the Area 1A or Area 1B sub-ACL has been caught, the herring possession limit in those areas is reduced to 2,000 pounds.
- When 90 percent of the Area 2 or Area 3 sub-ACL is caught, the herring possession limit in those areas is reduced to 40,000 pounds.
- When 98 percent of the Area 2 or Area 3 sub-ACL is caught, the herring possession limit in those areas is reduced to 2,000 pounds.
- When 95 percent of the herring ACL is caught, the herring possession limit in all areas is reduced to 2,000 pounds.
Slippage in the Atlantic herring fishery means discarded catch from a vessel issued an Atlantic herring permit that is carrying a NOAA Fisheries-certified observer or monitor prior to the catch being brought on board or prior to the catch being made available for sampling and inspection by a NOAA Fisheries-certified observer or monitor after the catch is on board. Slippage also means any catch that is discarded during a trip prior to it being sampled portside by a portside sampler on a trip selected for portside sampling coverage by NOAA Fisheries. Slippage includes releasing catch from a codend or seine prior to the completion of pumping the catch aboard and the release of catch from a codend or seine while the codend or seine is in the water. Fish that cannot be pumped and remain in the codend or seine at the end of pumping operations are not considered slippage. Discards that occur after the catch is brought on board and made available for sampling and inspection by a NOAA Fisheries-certified observer or monitor are also not considered slippage.
Vessels may make test tows without pumping catch on board, provided that all catch from test tows is available to the observer when the next tow is brought aboard.
Slippage does not include operational discards, discards that occur after the catch is brought on board and made available for sampling and inspection by a NOAA Fisheries-certified observer or monitor, or fish that inadvertently fall out of or off fishing gear as gear is being brought on board the vessel
Exceptions from Slippage Prohibition
Limited Access herring vessels (Category A, B, C) may slip catch if:
- Pumping the catch aboard could compromise safety;
- Mechanical failure prevents the catch from being pumped aboard; or
- Spiny dogfish have clogged the pump and prevent the catch from being pumped aboard.
Slippage Consequence Measure
If a vessel issued any limited access herring permit slips catch, the vessel operator must report the slippage event on the Atlantic herring daily VMS catch report and indicate the reason for slipping catch. Additionally, the vessel operator must complete and sign a released catch affidavit form, which is available on the Greater Atlantic Region Forms and Applications Summary webpage. The released catch affidavit must detail:
- Why catch was slipped;
- An estimate of the quantity and species composition of the slipped catch; and
- The time and location of the slipped catch.
The completed affidavit must be submitted to NOAA Fisheries within 48 hr of the end of the trip.
If a vessel issued a Category A or B Herring permit slips catch for any of the reasons described in the section above (see “Exceptions for Slippage Prohibitions”), the vessel operator must move at least 15 nm from where the slippage event occurred before deploying any gear again, and must stay at least 15 nm away from the slippage event location for the remainder of the fishing trip.
If a vessel issued a Category A or B herring permit slips catch for any reason not described in the section above, the vessel operator must immediately terminate the trip and return to port. No fishing activity may occur during the return to port.
Commercial Gear Information
Minimum mesh size
Other Gear Restrictions
The use of midwater trawl gear is prohibited in Area 1A from June 1 to September 30.
Herring as Bait
Vessels may possess herring solely for personal use as bait without holding a herring permit as long as the vessel does not have purse seine, midwater trawl, pelagic gillnet, sink gillnet, or bottom trawl gear on board.
Vessels may use pelagic gillnets to catch herring for use as bait. Pelagic gillnet gear is defined as a single gillnet not longer than 300 feet and not greater than 6 feet deep, with a maximum mesh size of 3 inches. The pelagic gillnet must be attached to the vessel and fished in the upper two-thirds of the water column.
A vessel issued a herring permit may possess herring roe provided that the carcasses of the herring from which it came are not discarded at sea.
Herring Vessels Working Cooperatively
Each vessel working cooperatively in the herring fishery, including vessels pair trawling, purse seining, and transferring herring at-sea, must be issued a valid herring permit to fish for, possess, or land Atlantic herring and are subject to the most restrictive herring possession limit associated with the permits issued to vessels working cooperatively.
Herring Carrier Vessels
Atlantic herring carrier vessels operating under a letter of authorization or an Atlantic herring carrier VMS trip declaration may not possess, transfer, or land any species other than Atlantic herring, except that they may possess Northeast multispecies transferred by vessels issued either Category A or B Herring Permit, consistent with the applicable possession limits for such vessels.
Subsistence Fishing Regulations
Fishing with Small-Mesh Bottom Trawl Gear
The Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery Management Plan prohibits fishing with small-mesh bottom trawl gear, except in specific exemption areas. These exemption areas are described below, and additional information about the specific requirements for each area can be found on the linked webpages within the tables.
A Letter of Authorization (LOA) is required to participate in some of these exemption areas. Permits and LOAs can be obtained from our Permits Office at (978) 282-8438, or online by visiting our Forms and Applications webpage. If you have questions about these exemption areas, please call the Sustainable Fisheries Division at (978) 281-9315.
Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank Small-Mesh Exemption Areas
Atlantic herring and Atlantic mackerel may be retained by vessels fishing with small-mesh bottom trawl gear in the exemption areas listed in the table below, provided vessels meet the following criteria:
- Comply with all season, area, and gear requirements.
- Comply with all possession limits.
- Are issued a whiting (Category K Open Access Northeast Multispecies) permit or a limited access Northeast multispecies permit.
Herring is considered an incidentally-caught species in these exemption areas; therefore, in order to fish with small-mesh bottom trawl in these areas, vessels must be on a trip targeting whiting. River herring and shad may not be retained when fishing with small-mesh bottom trawl gear in these exemption areas, with the exception that alewife may be retained in the Gulf of Maine Grate Raised Footrope Trawl Exemption Area.
|Area Name||Season||LOA Required?|
|Gulf of Maine Grate Raised Footrope Trawl Whiting Fishery Exemption Area||July 1 - November 30||No|
|Cultivator Shoal Whiting Fishery Exemption Area||June 15 - October 31||Yes|
|Small-Mesh Exemption Areas 1 & 2||
Small-Mesh Area 1: July 15 - November 15
Small-Mesh Area 2: January 1 - June 30
|Raised Footrope Trawl Exempted Whiting Fishery Areas (Cape Cod)||
September 1 - November 20
September 1 - December 31
Southern New England Exemption Area
Vessels may fish for herring using small-mesh bottom trawl gear in the Southern New England Exemption Area, provided they comply with all gear requirements and possession limits. River herring may be retained as incidental catch when fishing with small-mesh bottom trawl gear in this exemption area.
|Area Name||Season||LOA Required?|
|Southern New England Exemption Area||Year-round||No|
On February 7, 2020, NOAA Fisheries published a final rule implementing the New England Industry-Funded Monitoring (IFM) Omnibus Amendment. Among other measures, the IFM Amendment established a new IFM program in the herring fishery. Under this program, vessels issued a Category A (All Areas) or Category B (Areas 2/3) herring permit must secure at-sea monitoring coverage from a NOAA Fisheries-approved service provider on declared herring trips that are selected for IFM coverage. The target IFM coverage rate for herring vessels is 50 percent of declared herring trips. This coverage rate includes a combination of Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology (SBRM) and IFM coverage. NOAA Fisheries began selecting declared herring trips for IFM coverage on July 1, 2021. The IFM year runs from April 1 through March 31 annually.
Atlantic Herring Electronic Monitoring (EM) Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP)
On July 1, 2021, NOAA Fisheries issued an EFP authorizing participating vessels to use a combination of EM and portside sampling instead of at-sea monitoring in order to satisfy their IFM coverage requirements during IFM year 2021 (July 1, 2021 - March 31, 2022). On March 30, 2022, we reissued the EFP to cover IFM year 2022 (April 1, 2022 - March 31, 2023).
Under the EFP, participating vessels must run their EM systems on 100 percent of declared herring trips. Instead of at-sea monitoring, participating vessels must secure portside sampling services from a NOAA Fisheries-approved service provider on trips that are selected for IFM coverage. Participating vessels are also required to land at a NOAA Fisheries-approved sampling station on trips that are portside sampled. The EFP does not exempt participating vessels from SBRM coverage requirements, so participants must carry a NEFOP observer in addition to running their EM systems on herring trips that are selected for SBRM coverage.
Notification, Reporting, and Monitoring Requirements
Vessels must follow all Pre-Trip Notification System (PTNS) requirements for the herring fishery. For more information on notification and reporting requirements, please see the Notification, Reporting, and Monitoring Requirements for the Atlantic Herring Fishery bulletin from March 31, 2020.
Approved IFM Providers
On February 9, 2022, NOAA Fisheries Approved four companies to provide IFM services to herring vessels in IFM years 2022 and 2023. Please see the Observer Providers for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Programs webpage for details about these companies and the services they were approved to provide.
Vessels issued a Category A or B Atlantic herring permit must log into their PTNS web account to review the list of approved providers in PTNS and rank them in order of preference.
Fishing in Groundfish Closed Areas
A vessel may fish with midwater trawl gear inside certain Groundfish Closed Areas on a herring trip if:
- The trip is assigned SBRM coverage in PTNS; and
- The vessel carries a NEFOP observer on the trip.
Vessels carrying an at-sea monitor on trips selected for IFM coverage are not allowed to fish with midwater trawl gear inside a Groundfish Closed Area. If a trip is not selected for IFM or SBRM coverage, midwater trawl vessel owners may purchase supplemental observer coverage in order to fish in a Groundfish Closed Area. Additionally, if a vessel is participating in the herring EM EFP, the vessel owner may purchase supplemental portside sampling coverage in order to fish in a Groundfish Closed Area.
If a vessel is issued a coverage waiver for a trip and does not carry an observer or get portside sampled, the vessel is not permitted to fish inside a Groundfish Closed Area during that trip.
IFM Implementation History
We intended to implement IFM in the herring fishery and begin selecting vessels issued Category A or B herring permits for IFM coverage on April 1, 2020. However, the health mandates and travel restrictions that were in place at the time delayed implementation of IFM until July 2021. For more information and past updates on the herring IFM program, please see the following resources:
- January 29, 2020: Bulletin announcing the implementation of the IFM Amendment.
- March 30, 2020: Email requesting participants for the herring EM EFP.
- March 31, 2020: Email update on notification requirements and timing of IFM implementation.
- March 31, 2020: Bulletin describing notification, reporting, and monitoring requirements for the herring fishery.
- June 5, 2020: Email update on timing of IFM implementation.
- October 22, 2020: Email reminder about midwater trawl vessels fishing inside Groundfish Closed Areas.
How is this fishery managed?
The herring fishery is managed by a stock-wide annual catch limit (ACL) that is allocated to four distinct management areas (sub-ACLs, also known as management area quotas).
Who manages this fishery?
Herring is managed in federal waters by the New England Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries. Herring is managed in state waters by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and individual states. Individual states may set different regulations, such as possession/landing restrictions or spawning area closures. If state regulations differ from federal regulations, herring permit holders must adhere to the more restrictive regulations.
What is the fishing year for this fishery?
January 1 – December 31
How often do the quotas change for this fishery?
Specifications are set every three years for the herring fishery. The specifications from the previous year roll over if specifications are not in place at the start of the fishing year.
What is the control date for this fishery?
September 16, 1999
What are the different management areas for the herring fishery?
Area 1A – Inshore Gulf of Maine
Area 1B – Offshore Gulf of Maine
Area 2 – South Coastal Area
Area 3 – Georges Bank
What time of year are Atlantic herring most commonly found?
The fishery generally follows herring as they migrate. Fishing in the southern portion of herring’s range (especially off the coast of New Jersey) is common in the winter, while fishing on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine is more common between May and November.
What is the geographic extent of the fishery?
Herring are distributed from North Carolina to Maine and from inshore to offshore waters to the edge of the continental shelf. The species is most abundant north of Cape Cod and has become increasingly scarce south of New Jersey. The majority of the harvest comes from federal waters.
At what depths are herring found?
Adult Atlantic herring are found in shallow inshore waters (20 meters deep) to offshore waters up to 200 meters deep.
What gear types are primarily used for herring?
Trawls (bottom and mid-water, single and paired), purse seines, gillnets, and weirs are the primary gears used by the commercial herring fishery.
1972-1976 – Herring is managed by the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries
1976-1978 – NOAA Fisheries regulates international fishing through a preliminary fishery management plan
1978 – United States adopts its own management plan to manage herring stocks on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine, achieve higher levels of spawning biomass and stable recruitment, and rebuild the juvenile herring resource and sardine fishery in the Gulf of Maine
1982 – NOAA Fisheries rescinds the 1978 management plan because of conflicts between state and federal regulations
1982 – Herring is placed on prohibited species list, eliminating directed fisheries for the species by international fleets within the U.S. federal waters and requiring any herring bycatch be discarded
1983 – Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopts Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Herring
Mid-1980s – Georges Bank herring population begins to rebuild
1994 – Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopts a management plan for herring to address the growth of the herring resource and interest in Internal Water Processing operations
1999 – Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopts Amendment 1 to the herring management plan to complement the federal management plan in development at the time by the New England Fishery Management Council
2000 – NOAA Fisheries implements Federal Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan in conjunction with the New England Fishery Management Council
2006 - Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopts Amendment 2 to complement Amendment 1 in development at the time by the New England Fishery Management Council.
2007 – Amendment 1 implemented a limited entry for herring vessels, a seasonal purse seine/fixed gear only area in the inshore Gulf of Maine, a three-year specification process, and addressed other management measures for herring.
2008 – Amendment 2 implemented the Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology as a part of an Omnibus Amendment.
2011 – Amendment 4 implemented annual catch limits and accountability measures in the herring fishery.
2011 – Herring Regulatory Amendment implemented daily catch reporting for limited access herring vessels using vessel monitoring systems, weekly fishing vessel trip report reporting, and other catch reporting measures.
2013 – Framework 2 allowed the Council to split annual catch limits seasonally for the four Atlantic herring management areas, and carryover up to 10 percent of unharvested catch for each area's ACL.
2014 – Amendment 5 implemented measures revising fishery management program provisions (reporting, definitions, etc.); expanding vessel requirements associated with observer sampling; minimizing slippage; addressing the incidental catch and bycatch of river herring; and revising the criteria for midwater trawl vessel access to Groundfish closed areas.
2014 – Framework 3 established a process for setting river herring and shad catch caps in the herring fishery.
2015 - Amendment 6 established standards of precision for bycatch estimation for all New England and Mid-Atlantic fisheries.
2016 – Framework 4 implemented measures addressing slippage in the herring fishery.
2018 – Amendment 3 updated measures to protect Essential Fish Habitat for all federally managed species. This amendment modified some Groundfish Closed Areas, in some cases allowing the herring fishery greater access to these grounds.
2020 – The New England Industry-Funded Monitoring (IFM) Omnibus Amendment established industry-funded monitoring for the herring fishery and established a 50 percent combined monitoring coverage target for vessels issued Category A or B herring permits (IFM coverage +SBRM coverage = 50%).
2020 – Framework 6 established allowable 2020-2021 herring harvest levels and river herring and shad catch caps, consistent with the Atlantic Herring FMP. The specifications and management measures are necessary to meet conservation objectives while providing sustainable levels of access to the fishery.
2021 – Amendment 8 implemented measures to provide a long-term ABC control rule for the Atlantic herring fishery that will explicitly account for herring’s role in the ecosystem and to address the biological and ecological requirements of the Atlantic herring resource. Amendment 8 also included measures to address potential localized depletion and user conflicts with possible detrimental biological and socioeconomic impacts on predators of herring and other user groups.
2021 - Framework 8 reduced the Atlantic herring quotas for 2021-2023 as compared to 2020.This action modified in-season management measures to allow the Atlantic herring fleet more access to the Atlantic mackerel fishery.
2019 – Framework 7 - The Council has initiated a framework action to address spawning on Georges Bank.
2021 – Framework 9 - The Council has initiated a framework action to implement a rebuilding plan for herring and adjust accountability measures when catch limits are exceeded.
The most recent herring stock assessment was completed in June 2020. Please visit the Fishery Stock Assessments in New England and the Mid-Atlantic webpage for more information about stock assessments, and the Stock Assessment Review Index webpage for copies of completed assessment documents.