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Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasii)

Status | Species Description | Habitat | Distribution | Population Trends | Threats | Conservation Efforts | Regulatory Overview | Taxonomy | Key Documents | More Info


Former ESA Candidate Species - listing not warranted (04/02/2014)

Species Description

1.2 pounds (550 g)
up to 18 inches (46 cm)
dark blue to olive on their backs shading to silver on their sides and belly
up to 19 years
young feed mainly on crustaceans, but also eat decapod and mollusk larvae;
adults eat mainly large crustaceans and small fishes
found in large schools, studies show that Pacific herring stick together, remaining in the same school for years

The Pacific herring is a coastal schooling species. They are found in large schools in depths from the surface to 1,300 feet (400 m). In addition to schooling, Pacific herring use countershading for protection from predators. They are dark blue to olive on their backs shading to silver on their sides and belly, making them hard to see from above and below. They can reach 18 inches (46 cm) in length and weigh up to 1.2 pounds (550 g). Herring can live up to 19 years.

Adult Pacific herring migrate inshore, entering estuaries to breed once per year, with timing varying by latitude. They do not feed from the start of this migration through spawning, a period of up to two weeks or so. The herring spawn in shallow areas along shorelines, between the subtidal and intertidal zones. Eggs are deposited on kelp, eelgrass (Zostera marina), and other available structures. After spawning, herring return to their summer feeding areas.

It is generally thought that after hatching, herring larvae remain in nearshore waters close to their spawning grounds where they feed and grow in the protective cover of shallow water habitats. After 2 to 3 months, the larvae metamorphose into juveniles. During the summer of their first year, these juveniles form schools in shallow bays, inlets and channels. These schools disappear in the fall and then move to deep water for the next 2 to 3 years.

Herring feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton in nutrient-rich waters associated with oceanic upwelling. Young feed mainly on crustaceans, but also eat decapod and mollusk larvae, whereas adults prey mainly on large crustaceans and small fishes. Although some mixing occurs, tagging studies show that Pacific herring stick together, remaining in the same school for years.


Pacific herring occur in coastal areas of the Pacific Ocean from the surface to depths of 1,300 feet (400 m).


Pacific Herring have numerous populations throughout the North Pacific Ocean and adjacent seas.

In the western North Pacific, they are found throughout the Western Bering Sea to Kamchatka, in the Sea of Okhotsk, around Hokkaido, Japan, and south and west to the Yellow Sea.

In the eastern North Pacific Ocean, herring range from Baja California, Mexico, north to the Beaufort Sea, Alaska.

Pacific herring are also found in the Russian Arctic from the Chukchi Sea to the White Sea.

Population Trends

Herring population abundance trends are very dynamic and are subject to fairly substantial changes on both large and small geographic scales. The primary cause for such fluctuations in abundance is environmental change that affects herring growth and recruitment. In Southeast Alaska, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) manages the herring fishery on a long-term, sustained yield basis. ADF&G monitors the Southeast Alaska Distinct Population Segment (DPS) as nine spawning aggregates, including:

The petition to list the Southeast Alaska DPS of Pacific herring under the Endangered Species Act focused on the Lynn Canal stock (see "Regulatory Overview" below). During the winters of 1972-1979, biomass estimates for the Lynn Canal stock (Auke Bay) exceeded 2,500 tons (Carlson 1980). However, since 1981, spawning biomass estimates of the Lynn Canal stock have been at or below 2,000 tons. From 2001-2004, the spawning biomass estimate was less than 1,000 tons. Recent surveys, however, have indicated significant improvement in this stock.


Conservation Efforts

The herring fishery in Lynn Canal and the Juneau area has been closed since 1982.

The ADF&G Herring Management Plan for the eight other spawning aggregates that comprise the Southeast Alaska DPS, requires that biomass estimates meet a designated minimum threshold, preset for each of the stocks, before commercial fishing is allowed to begin. Harvest policies are then guided by a maximum exploitation rate of 20% of the mature biomass, which is consistent with other herring fisheries on the west coast of North America.

Regulatory Overview

In April 2014, we determined that listing was not warranted for the Southeast Alaska DPS. On April 2, 2007, the Juneau group of the Sierra Club petitioned to list Pacific herring in the Lynn Canal, Alaska, area as a threatened or endangered "Distinct Population Segment" (DPS) under the ESA. On April 11, 2008, we denied petition because we found that the Lynn Canal population did not qualify as a DPS, but we initiated a status review for a wider Southeast Alaska DPS (Dixon Entrance northward to Cape Fairweather and Icy Point), which includes all Pacific herring stocks in Southeast Alaska, including the petitioned Lynn Canal population (73 FR 19824).


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Clupeiformes
Family: Clupeidae
Genus: Clupea
Species: pallasii

Key Documents

(All documents are in PDF format.)
Title Federal Register Date

Not Warranted Listing Determination; Status Review Report Available

79 FR 18518 04/02/2014

90-day Finding on Petition; Status Review Initiated

73 FR 19824 04/11/2008

More Information

Updated: January 2, 2015