Pacific Herring | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Pacific Herring

Clupea pallasii pallasii

Also known as

sea herring, sild, hareng

Distribution

Throughout the North Pacific, ranging from Alaska down to Mexico

Écosystèmes/habitats

Pelagic to coastal in cold to temperate waters

Feeding Habits

Filter feeder

Conservation Status

Not listed

Taxonomie

Order Clupeiformes (herrings); Family Clupeidae (herrings, shads, sardines and menhadens)

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Pacific herring are a small and widely abundant fish that are very important to both the ecology and culture of Canada’s Pacific coast. Many other species rely on them for food, including larger fish, seabirds as well as marine and terrestrial mammals. Pacific herring also have significant value to communities, including First Nations. Some First Nations have stories and songs about herring that have been passed down to subsequent generations, demonstrating the long-term connection of Indigenous Peoples to this fish.

Pacific herring have been harvested for thousands of years by First Nations communities, who typically harvested herring roe (eggs) by using anchored kelp fronds, eelgrass, or boughs of hemlock or cedar trees. They have been harvested for food, bait and roe in both commercial and First Nations fisheries using gillnets, purse seines and dipnets. Industrial scale harvesting began in the late 1870s, although the herring product that has been sought after has changed over time relative to shifting market demands.

Early commercial fisheries were for bait, but quickly shifted to reduction fisheries for oil and fertilizer. The reduction fisheries closed in the 1960s due to population collapses, but populations rebounded shortly after and led to the opening of roe fisheries in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The herring roe fishery has been the primary fishery since the 1970s, with the roe shipped to Japan in massive quantities, where it is seen as a delicacy.

Three of the five management Pacific herring stocks in British Columbia saw longstanding fisheries closures due to low population abundance, however these were re-opened in 2014/2015 despite resistance and concern from First Nations and scientists. This decline in abundance and in fisheries can be seen in the monetary value of the Pacific herring fisheries. In 1990, at the height of the roe fisheries, the Pacific herring fishery was valued at $73.1 million. As of 2014, it was valued at $11.6 million. 

Pacific herring harvested using purse seine is listed as a sustainable seafood choice.