A member of the Clupeidae family of herring, the Atlantic herring is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most numerous fish and is certainly one of the world’s most valuable fish. It is used by humans in a host of ways and is extremely important as forage for predator species.
IdentificationThe Atlantic herring is silvery with a bluish or greenish-blue back and an elongated body. The dorsal ﬁn begins at about the middle of the body, and there are 39 to 47 weakly developed ventral scutes. At the midline of the belly are scales that form a sharp-edged ridge. Teeth on the roof of the mouth distinguish the Atlantic herring from the similar alewife.
SizeOrdinarily less than a foot long, the Atlantic herring can grow to 18 inches. The all-tackle world record is a 1-pound, 1-ounce fish; a 3-pound, 12-ounce record stands for the skipjack herring.
Life history/BehaviorAtlantic herring usually spawn in the fall, although in any particular month of the year there is at least one group of Atlantic herring that moves into shallow coastal waters to spawn (Blueback and skipjack herring, which are anadromous, spawn in coastal rivers in the spring).
Almost 5 inches long by the end of their ﬁrst year, Atlantic herring nearly double their length in 2 years and reach maturity at age 4 or 5. Schools of herring may contain billions of individuals. In the western Atlantic, herring migrate from feeding grounds along the Maine coast during the autumn to the southern New England–mid-Atlantic region during the winter, with larger individuals tending to migrate greater distances.