Species contact: Dr. Michael Armstrong
Atlantic herring palm
Scientific name: Clupea harengus
Common names: Atlantic herring, herring, sea herring, sardine, sperling, brit, common herring, Labrador herring


Massachusetts State Record : None
IGFA All-Tackle World Record: 2 pounds, 4 ounces. Caught in 2011 off the coast of Dieppe, France.


Size: Atlantic herring grow to about 17 inches in length and usually weigh upwards of 1.5 pounds.
Color: Green-blue dorsally, fading to silver on the belly. The entire fish has a silvery sheen.
Body: Atlantic herring are laterally compressed and fusiform, having a large mouth and projecting lower jaw. There is a single dorsal fin and the caudal fin has a deep fork.

Similar Species

Blueback herring, American shad, other herrings


Prey: Atlantic herring consume zooplankton including copepods, arrow worms, mysids, krill, and small fish
Predators: Atlantic herring are eaten by numerous species throughout the oceans. Sharks, marine mammals, squid, cod, and tuna are among the many predators that prey upon Atlantic herring.

Atlantic herring larva
Atlantic herring larva

Life History

Atlantic herring aggregate in large schools to spawn in late summer and early fall. In the western north Atlantic ocean, they aggregate in coastal waters ranging from the Gulf of Maine to Nova Scotia for spawning. Most females lay 20-50,000 eggs, while larger females may lay as many as 200,000 eggs. The eggs hatch within 11 days of spawning, however they may take up to 40 days to do so. Atlantic herring may live up to 20 years.


These are a pelagic fish. While they do enter coastal areas, they tend to remain offshore. Atlantic herring range from the surface to over 120 feet in depth.

Geographic Distribution

In the western North Atlantic ocean, Atlantic herring range along the entire eastern seaboard of the United States. They are found from northern Florida through Maine waters to Canadian waters into the Arctic Ocean.
Atlantic herring map

Recreational Fishing

Casting lures

Atlantic herring catch

Commercial Fishing

Since this is a migratory pelagic species, the United States works with Canada and countries in Europe to develop management plans and monitoring programs for the species. Atlantic herring is an important bait, fish oil, and consumed species. To learn more about commercial fishing in Massachusetts waters, visit our Commercial Fishing page .


Federal Waters (3 miles to 200 miles): NOAA Fisheries based on recommendations from the New England Fishery Management Council
State Waters (coastal to 3 miles): Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries based on requirements from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

Angling Tips

Atlantic herring are not typically a target species for recreational anglers. Anglers do target them as baitfish for larger species. They are also targeted by some anglers from overseas, particularly northern and eastern Europe where herring is a large part of the diet.

Food quality

Most herring in the United States is canned, pickled, or smoked. Fresh herring in the United States is rare, but can be found in some higher end restaurants and fish shops. Herring is a staple of protein in northern and eastern Europe. Atlantic herring meat is off-white and soft. Small fish have a more delicate flavor than larger fish, which tend to taste oilier and pungent.