Pacific Herring

Together with a few other small schooling fish species, herring play a unique role in the food web: they are an essential source of food for larger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. They require clean water and natural shorelines, so their continued survival depends on maintaining links between nearshore and open-water habitats. This Vital Sign is an indicator of the health of forage fish (also known as bait fish) in Puget Sound, with a specific focus on Pacific herring as one of the most abundant and well-studied forage fish species.


Key Messages

  •       Herring eggs on kelp. Photo Tessa Francis
    Despite seeing minor increases in Pacific herring spawn biomass in 2015-16 compared to the ten-year average, the current spawning biomass of all stocks is below both their respective 25-year mean reference and their 2020 target values.
  • The biomass of herring in Central and Southern Puget Sound, while variable, has shown a slight negative trend over the past 40+ years. However, this decline has become more pronounced since 2012 and is being closely monitored.
  • In recent years the biomass of the Quilcene Bay herring stock has substantially bolstered the overall estimate for the Other Stocks Complex. Quilcene Bay biomass is currently at an all-time high and increased 59 percent from 2015 to 2016.
  • The Cherry Point herring stock has declined by over 95 percent since the earliest sampling date in 1973 and shows little sign of recovery. However, sampling in 2016-17 showed that older, larger fish are still present, which is critical for the stock’s survival.
  • While no estimate of abundance is available, Northern Anchovy, another important forage fish species, was widely reported throughout Puget Sound in 2016, which may signal an increase in their local abundance.
  • While herring biomass is used as an indicator of forage fish health on a Sound-wide basis, there are several forage species for which detailed abundance and distribution data are lacking, and which have substantially different life history and life cycle drivers than herring.

Strategies, Actions, and Effectiveness

Contributing Partners

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Fish Unit (forage fish) monitors Pacific herring in Puget Sound

PSEMP Forage Fish and Food Webs work group (coordinator is James Selleck)
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