Managing our herring

Herring has played a key role in the diets of Norwegians for centuries and today we share it with the world. Therefore, it is crucial that we manage our fish stocks, particularly in the spawning areas, to ensure that we can enjoy this delicious and nutritious fish for years to come.

Historically, managing herring stocks was notoriously difficult. This is because herring travels great distances over the course of its life. With today’s sonar technology and the cooperation of neighbouring countries, we can track the numbers of spawning herring and ensure the stocks remain at a sustainable level.

Graph showing stock size and catches of Norwegian spring-spawning herring 1907-1997

Development in spawning stock (blue) and catches (white) of Norwegian spring spawning herring from 1907-1997.

In the 1950s and 1960s the Norwegian spring spawning herring fisheries became more efficient. This was great for international trade, but it resulted in a decline in stock numbers. We learned a valuable lesson and put strict and efficient fisheries management in place to raise the stock levels to a sustainable level.

Netting a sustainable future

Graph showing stock size of Norwegian spring-spawning herring 1988-2013

The stock of Norwegian spring spawning herring is declining after having been at a high level for some time. The spawning stock for 2016 is estimated at 3,586 million tonnes and is thus under the precautionary level of 5 million tonnes. We are not allowed to fish herring that are less than 25cm, so fisheries concentrate on adult herrings.

North Sea herring is harvested at a sustainable level, but because of changes in the time-series of natural mortality, the fishing mortality reference points for North Sea herring were re-estimated in 2014, and the quotas will be adjusted according to this. Quotas will be lower over the next few years, to keep it above the precautionary level.

The four-year spawning process

From the specific conditions needed for the eggs to survive, to the journey the herring larvae take across the ocean. It’s no wonder that managing herring stocks is such a complex matter.

Infographic showing a map of Norway with arrows pointing towards the coast of Northern Norway

The Norwegian spring spawning herring’s main spawning area is along the northwest coast of Norway in February-March but it also spawns along the coast of Northern Norway.

Infographic showing herring eggs on the bottom of the sea

The herring lay their eggs on the bottom of the sea where they hatch after about three weeks.

Infographic showing the hatched larvae drifting with the current

The newly hatched larvae drift with the current along the coast towards the north, into the Barents Sea early in the summer.

Infographic showing fish swimming westward

Then the herring larvae turn into little herring called pilchards. When the herring is 3-4 years old, it swims westward down along the coast and mixes gradually with the spawning stock.

Infographic showing a herring thinking about food

After spawning the adult herring swims into the Norwegian Sea on a long journey to find food.

Fish fact

In 2015, Norwegian fisheries caught 313,132 tonnes of herring.

Source: Directorate of Fisheries (

Impact of quotas on exports

Quotas are continually being reduced in order to lessen the impact of fishing on herring stocks. In 2015 the Norwegian export value for herring was NOK 2.4 billion . This is a decline of NOK 327 million (7 %) compared with 2014 and reflects the tighter regulations.

Infographic: two moneybags on a scale. 2.4 billion NOK. 327 million NOK.