Species Identification

Herring is a family of fish comprised of both fresh and saltwater species. The two major species are the Atlantic and Pacific herring. This page will look at both species of herring, with a focus on the Atlantic herring given its notoriety for being the most abundant fish species in the world.


Both Pacific and Atlantic herring are a small schooling fish. They are silvery in color, with a bluish or greenish-blue back.

Maximum Size

14 inches (35.5 cm).

Growth Rate

Male and female herring grow at about the same rate.

Geographic Range

In both the eastern and western halves of the North Atlantic Ocean. In the western Atlantic, herring range from Labrador to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.The Pacific herring range from California up north to Alaska and the Bering Sea, and in Asia as far south as Japan.


Coastal and continental shelf waters.

Life Span

Up to 15 years.


Zooplankton (tiny floating animals), krill, and fish larvae.


Typically not fully mature until age 4. Age at maturity varies annually, and changes appear to be dependent on population density. Female Atlantic herring can produce 30,000 to 200,000 eggs each, while Pacific herring produce 20,000. The eggs are typically deposited on a variety of bottom substrates including rocks, gravel, and shell fragments. Schools of herring can produce so many eggs that they cover the ocean bottom in a dense carpet of eggs several centimeters thick. Incubation is depends on the temperature but usually occurs within 7 to 10 days. By late spring, larvae grow into juvenile herring that form large schools in coastal waters during the summer.


As early as August in Nova Scotia and eastern Maine and during October and November in the southern Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and Nantucket Shoals. Pacific herring spawn exclusively in the spring. Spawning's done over rock, gravel, or sand bottoms in areas of strong tidal currents and high salinity at depths of 50 to 150 feet (15.24-45.72m).


Schools of adult herring make extensive migrations to areas where they feed, spawn, and spend the winter.


Given its abundance around the world, many species of fish, marine mammals, and seabirds prey on herring.

Information Courtesy of NOAA.

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