Maine Seafood Guide – Herring
Herring Clupea harengus
also known as sardines
Atlantic herring is one of the most common fishes of the Gulf of Maine. Atlantic herring are schooling, filter-feeding fish which are eaten by a variety of marine mammals, sea birds and fish. Some Gulf of Maine herring migrate from summer feeding grounds along the Maine coast and on Georges Bank to southern New England and Mid-Atlantic areas during winter, with larger individuals tending to migrate farther distances.
Atlantic herring are the fish that were canned as “sardines” in Maine and Atlantic Canada.
Year-round, but the fishery in Maine coastal waters is concentrated in summer.
Herring populations are naturally highly variable, possibly due to changing environmental conditions. The most recent stock assessment (2015) found that overfishing is not occurring in the herring fishery, and the stock is not overfished. (See Fishwatch.gov).
New England Fishery Management Council and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The New England Fishery Management Council prohibits mid-water trawling from June through September 30 in federal waters, while the ASMFC plan includes spawning closures and a days out provision that restricts vessels to 2,000 pounds of herring per day.
In the past, herring were harvested primarily in “fixed” gear (weirs and stop seines) close to shore and catches depended on schools of juvenile herring (sardines) swimming into the weir or into a bay or cove where they could be “shut off” with a seine. Today, the fishery is almost exclusively a “mobile” gear fishery. Fishermen in larger boats pursue herring to offshore fishing grounds, using sophisticated electronic equipment to locate the fish and purse seines and mid-water trawls to catch them. See the vessel and gear guide for more information.
Fish for herring with hook and line when schools come nearshore in summer.
Herring are higher in fat than other seafoods, but they are an excellent source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. Herring are low in mercury.
Fresh herring are difficult to find in retail markets (most are destined to become lobster bait!). Herring are being canned by Bar Harbor Foods in Whiting, Maine. Gulf of Maine herring may find their way into sardine cans packed in New Brunswick, Canada.
- Learn more about the herring fishery from the Maine Department of Marine Resources.