Course:CONS200/2021/Herring fisheries management in British Columbia: Ecological importance and threats

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Brief introduction about Herring

This is a picture about the habitats of Pacific Herring Fish[1]

In British Columbia, the Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasii) plays an important role in the herring fishery, it is a forage species that provide food resources for many marine mammals [2]. British Columbia is a province located near the ocean and there are many businesses related to the ocean such as fishery and herring fish is one of its products. This shows that the fishery is an industry that has a strong connection to the local or even economy, and proves that the management of the herring fisheries is very important.

Herring fish is a type of long-life forage fish, its habitat is often located in the ocean current connecting the Sea of Japan and California. The herring fish is both prey and predator in the natural food web which means it is very important in the ecosystem especially the marine ecosystem[3]. The average lifespan for the herring fish is around 10 years and the survival rate depended on herring fish's early lifetime[4].

Introduction to herring fishery in British Columbia

There are five main herring fish habits in British Columbia, they are Prince Rupert District (PRD), Haida Gwaii (HG), the Central Coast (CC), the West Coast of Vancouver Island (WCVI), and the Strait of Georgia [2]. Recently, the situation of the herring fish in British Columbia attract society’s attention, and indigenous people, scientists and politicians show their worry and concern about the current situation[3]. The situation of the herring fish is deeply related to the water (ocean) environment, and it could be influenced by different factors such as pollution and climate change [5].

The commercial herring fishery in the province of British Columbia is mainly focused on four purposes: Food and bait, Roe herring, Spawn on kelp, Special use[6].

Herring Fisheries Management

The Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) for Pacific Herring for the 2020/21 season runs from November 20, 2020 to November 6, 2021[1]. This IFMP provides a broad backdrop for the management of the Pacific Herring fishery, as well as the interrelationships between all fishing sectors involved[1]. The Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasii) fishery began in British Columbia in the nineteenth century, and after the collapse of the Pacific Sardine industry in the late 1940s, it became the most important pelagic fishery[1]. The majority of Pacific Herring are now caught for their roe, which is marketed in Japan. The remaining commercial fisheries are split between the generation of spawn on kelp and the food and bait markets. Here is a comprehensive list of management strategies currently applied:

Management of Pacific Herring is directed by the Fisheries Act and other acts and regulations including [1]:

  • Areas and Subareas, as described in the Pacific Fishery Management Area Regulations, are referenced in describing Pacific Herring Management Areas[7]
  • The Fishery (General) Regulations (i.e. Conditions of Licence) and thePacific Fishery Regulations , 1993 (i.e. open times)
  • The Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licences Regulations
  • The Maa-nulth First Nations Final Agreement Act
  • The Tla’amin Final Agreement Act
  • The British Columbia Sport Fishing Regulations
  • The Oceans Act
  • The Species at Risk Act

Stock Assessment

Pacific Herring are managed in five major and two minor stock zones at the moment. As a result, each of these seven zones has its own set of catch and survey data, and DFO science advice is given on the same scale.

A statistical catch-age model has been used to provide stock assessment guidance for the major stock areas since the early 1980s[8]. The Herring Catch Age Model [9] was modified in a Bayesian framework in 2006, and was used for stock assessments from 2006 to 2010 with additional revisions [10].

Ecosystem interactions

According to research, the impact of food supply and predation on herring survival and productivity is complex and unpredictable[11] . Recent study to establish limit reference points for Pacific Herring[12] has been completed, indicating limits of substantial or slowly reversible injury to a stock, and more research is planned to more precisely define additional reference points. Furthermore, the management system is being renewed.

Management and related issues

First Nations: Some Indigenous nations have been unable to harvest FSC and treaty allocations in their traditional regions, according to information received by DFO. Catch monitoring and co-management programmes are developed in collaboration with some Indigenous communities and organisations to improve DFO's understanding of these fisheries and potential barriers to successful FSC and treaty related fisheries, in addition to pre-season and post-season consultation.[6]

Recreational: The recreational herring industry has minimal catch data, however the catch is predicted to be relatively low.[6]

Commercial: Commercial licence holders and the Herring Industry Advisory Board (HIAB) have identified the need to reduce commercial licence fees as a top priority for the fisheries. Licence holders have specifically requested that licence rates for BC herring fisheries be changed to a more equitable pricing structure that corresponds to fishing revenue.[6]

Spawn-on-Kelp: In this fishery, the restriction on licence nomination (non-transferability) has been noted as a problem, as some individual fishery participants are no longer able or willing to participate.[6]

Gear Impacts: The gear types employed in the Pacific Herring fisheries have negligible environmental implications when operated responsibly. Efforts are made during the Roe fishery to conduct fisheries in regions that do not disrupt important spawning habitat, such as eelgrass beds. Participants in the Spawn-on-Kelp fishery are advised to minimise local consequences. This fishery has the potential to negatively influence benthic habitat if inadequate enclosure husbandry is used or ponded herring mortality is high.[6]

Importance of the Herring Fishery management

Ecological importance

The pacific herring has great ecological importance as it serves a key food ingredient for many marine species, like tuna, seals and whales. It is one of the back bones of the marine food web.[13]

Herring starting out from small translucent eggs to grow-up adults are all full of nutrients. These energy rich fishes are fed upon by a diversity of marine predators that include marine birds, mammals, fishes and invertebrates. For example, off the coast of Vancouver Island (British Columbia, Canada) , adult herring comprise major proportions of predator diets (e.g. Chinook Salmon – 62%, Coho Salmon – 58%, Lingcod – 71% and Harbour Seals – 32%, source: DFO). [14]

This is the picture of Pacific Herring[15]

Herring are a very important part of our marine ecosystems. They also stage one of the natural world’s most spectacular events with their annual spawn.  Each year, tens of thousands of tonnes of herring migrate from offshore waters to more sheltered nearshore bays where they spawn. Male herring release milt (containing sperm), which colours nearshore waters a chalky white, sometimes for many kilometres of coastline. In this opaque water, female herring lay eggs upon the inter-tidal and nearshore vegetation, which often includes eel-grass and kelp. These dense aggregations of spawning herring – and their deposited eggs – often attract tremendous numbers of predators and scavengers. In some areas, millions of marine birds, hundreds of sea lions, seals and dozens of humpback and grey whales actively forage for weeks. [14]

Without the pacific herring, this interconnected food web will collapse and a lot of marine animals (from tiny fish to big mammals) and sea birds will suffer.  Therefore, the herring is of utmost importance to the health of the ecological system of the Pacific Ocean.

Cultural importance

The pacific herring is rich with healthy omega-3 fat and various important vitamins and minerals.  Indigenous people have relied on it as their main diet for centuries.

In coastal Alaska and along the Northwest Coast, herring was/is one of a vast array of traditional foods in a diverse diet. Herring apparently played different dietary roles in different cultural settings; in some areas it was a seasonal feast food, while in others its products were processed into forms that could be consumed throughout the annual cycle. Herring provided essential nutrients that affected human health, growth, and development, and likely facilitated demographic expansion. Together with the indigenous and scientific knowledge of how herring function within North Pacific ecosystems, we can now understand more the role of herring as a cultural keystone species. [16]

Alaska Native and First Nation collectors often lay out hemlock or cedar boughs on which eggs are laid and can easily be collected. Herring eggs are a culinary delicacy, especially when eaten raw and fresh. The spring egg harvest continues to be an important cultural practice, and herring eggs are cherished as a feast food associated with considerable prestige.  Herring eggs traditionally are dried or could be preserved in oil of fermented. [16]

Anthropologists had used ethnographic data to demonstrate that herring spawning and growing areas are coincidental with the establishment of long-term human settlements in Southeast Alaska. Archaeological findings of fish bones remains in human settlements indicated that they are present as early as 8000 to 9000 years ago and was particularly frequent around 400 years ago. [17]

Economic importance

Commercial fishing of the pacific herring has been in decline for the last 30 years due to increase fishery cost and reduction in total catch value.  The herring roe fishery has a strategic importance to the fisheries and seafood processing sector, due to the employment it generates in the off-season. The decrease in herring roe catches has led to decreases in employment in the fish processing and export sectors. Those invested in the fishery have seen the decline in value as the licences and lease costs have decreased substantially with the decline in value of the herring catch. [18]

To conclude, Pacific Herring has tremendous importance ecologically, economically and culturally. With various adverse factors (e.g. climate change, over finishing ) happening around the world, the population of this species has continue to decline. If we do not take immediate action to reverse this trend, even this once plentiful species could be extinct one day.

Threats to the Herring and Herring Fishery management

The situation of the habit is the top threat to herring fish, it is related to human activities and climate change[5]. Habitat is the place for animals to live, and the situation of the habit could impact the population of the species and the biodiversity of the whole ecosystem. And the herring fishery is related to the situation of the herring fish, therefore, the habitat is very important for the fishery management.

However, human activities also could deeply influence the spawn of herring fish, because most of the herring fish spawn near the coastal areas and are easily impacted by human activities[5]. The spawn of the herring fish is very important because it is related to the future population, and the lifespan of herring fish also depend on the early life[4]. Therefore, human activities are key threats to herring fish, especially spawn. If there are not enough spawn grow to mature fish, there will be long term influences which is the decline of the herring fishes' population. Human influences such as pollution and overfishing could also impact other animals, which destroyed the food chain and the balance of the ecosystem and damage the biodiversity in that areas[4]. Herring fish is one of the important food resources for other animals in the ocean[3], the change of the population will also influence other species around their habitats. And the research proves that the change in the population in herring fish could impact many different species[3]. The secondary issue is climate change. Climate change might not have a direct impact on herring fish, but it will cause the change in the situation of habitats, such as the increasing ocean temperature, the research also shows that the change of the ocean temperature could have significant influences on species with short lifespan such as herring fish[2].

Meanwhile, there are also some problems in the current management system which is the population of the herring fish sometimes been overestimates[3]. This means people sometime believe there are more herring fish than the real situations, the management department might allowed fishery to get more herring fish from the ocean, and this will cause overfishing which also impact the balance of the ecosystem.

Overall, the main threat is the changing of the living habitats for herring fish, it will create more difficulty for the sustainable herring fish, and climate change causes changes in the marine environment.

Potential Solutions to threats

The first threat is caused by humans, and it needs humans to think of a method to reduce our impacts on animals such as herring fish. Because most of the threats are global issues such as climate change and overfishing which is difficult to be solved by an individual. Therefore, it is very important to have a full discussion with the whole society, for example, the Herring Summit which invites Indigenous people in Canada, different organizations, universities and management departments about fishing[5]. This meeting invites people from different backgrounds and could let people discuss the problem from a different point of view. Meanwhile, a correct understanding of the current situation of the herring fish is another potential solution, it could make sure the decision is based on accurate data[4]. The data could impact the management of the herring fishery. This also shows another solutions which is build a better system to monitor the situation of herring fish which will include more factors related to herring fish management[3]. When more factors included in the system, the scientist could notice more potential impacts to herring fish and better understand the real situation of herring fish.

Overall Situation For Herring Fisheries Management

British Columbia located near the ocean, the marine environment have a direct connection with many aspects of human society. Herring fish is one of the species which have some habitats in the ocean near the land[1]. The herring fish plays a very important role in the ecological system especially the marine ecosystem, the population of the herring fish has a strong connection with its prey and predators[3]. This shows the important role of herring fish in the food chain. Meanwhile, herring fish is very important to some indigenous communities, the herring fish has cultural values to them and also could become one of their food resources[16]. According to the information above, the herring fish have significant values to society. The herring fishery has a connection with the local economic situation and investment[18]. This all proves the importance of the management to herring fishery.

In addition, in Herring fisheries science and management, there are four major challenges: (1) coping with ubiquitous uncertainties and dangers; (2) predicting probability for uncertain quantities; (3) evaluating the effectiveness of suggested management interventions; and (4) conveying technical difficulties. [1]These issues are compounded in fisheries that harvest numerous stocks, and there are a variety of approaches that can help: (i) Risk assessments and decision analyses account for uncertainty by allowing multiple alternative hypotheses to be examined at the same time.[6] (ii) As used to multi-stock data sets, hierarchical models can improve estimates of probability distributions for model parameters when compared to single-stock analysis. [9](iii) Complete fishing systems operating models provide extensive platforms for testing management strategies.[12]

However, the herring fish face some problems such as the habitats being polluted[4]. In the natural environment, the balance of the ecosystem is related to the population of each species, if one of the species in the ecosystem changes, the whole food chain will be influenced. Global climate change also brings changes to the herring fish, they have to face the problems of the changes in the habitats, it will also cause some problems which is difficult to be noticed such as the change of the environment in the ocean. [2] These threats all focus on the changing of the habitats and the threats all have a connection with human activities. Therefore, it is very important for humans to find out solutions to reduce the damage to the environment. One of the positive changes is that society started to worry about the situation of the herring fish[3], and find out some potential solutions such as building better herring fish monitor system.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 "Pacific Herring 2020 to 2021". Government of Canada. Government of Canada. 17 Feb. 2021. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Xu, Yi; Fu, Caihong; Peña, Angelica; Hourston, Roy; Thomson, Richard; Robinson, Cliff; Cleary, Jaclyn; Daniel, Kristen; Thompson, Matthew (2019). "Variability of pacific herring (clupea pallasii) spawn abundance under climate change off the West Coast of Canada over the past six decades". Journal of Marine Systems. 200.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Surma, Szymon; Pitcher, Tony; Kumar, Rajeev; Varkey, Divya; Pakhomov, Evgeny; Lam, Mimi. "Herring supports Northeast Pacific Predators and Fisheries: Insights from Ecosystem Modelling and Management Strategy Evaluation". PLOS ONE. 13. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0196307.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Schweigert, Jacob; Boldt, Jennifer; Flostrand, Linnea; Cleary, Jaclyn (2010). "A review of factors limiting recovery of Pacific herring stocks in Canada". ICES Journal of Marine Science. 67.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Levin, Phillip; Francis, Tessa; Taylor, Nathan (2016). "Thirty-two essential questions for understanding the social–ecological system of forage fish: The case of Pacific Herring". Ecosystem Health and Sustainability. 2.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 "Information about Pacific herring fisheries". Information about Pacific herring fisheries. Government of Canada. 18 February 2021.
  7. Fisheries, NOAA. “Atlantic Herring.” NOAA, 2021,
  8. Walters, C. J., Stocker, M., Tyler, A. V., & Westrheim, S. J. (1986). Interaction between Pacific cod (gadus macrocephalus) and Herring (Clupea Harengus pallasi) in the Hecate Strait, British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 43(4), 830–837.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Larsen, Karin. “Quota for B.C.'s Lone Remaining Herring Roe Fishery Too High, Says Scientist | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 19 Feb. 2021,
  10. Fisheries and Oceans Canada. (2011). Terms of reference. Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from
  11. Jacob F. Schweigert, Jennifer L. Boldt, Linnea Flostrand, Jaclyn S. Cleary, A review of factors limiting recovery of Pacific herring stocks in Canada, ICES Journal of Marine Science, Volume 67, Issue 9, December 2010, Pages 1903–1913,
  12. 12.0 12.1 Fisheries and Oceans Canada. (2018). Réseau de thermographes dans l'estuaire et le golfe du saint-laurent - - CIOOS/SIOOC. Réseau de thermographes dans l'estuaire et le golfe du Saint-Laurent - - CIOOS/SIOOC. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from
  13. Phillip S. Levin, Tessa B. Francis & Nathan G. Taylor (19 Jun 2017.). "Thirty-two essential questions for understanding the social–ecological system of forage fish: the case of pacific herring". Ecosystem Health and Sustainability. line feed character in |title= at position 49 (help); Check date values in: |date= (help)
  14. 14.0 14.1 MacDuffee, Misty. "Pacifi c Herring: Underpinning the coastal foodweb".
  15. "Pacific Herring". Government of Canada. Government of Canada. 19 December 2016.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Moss, Madonna L (3 June 2015). "The nutritional value of Pacific herring: An ancient cultural keystone species on the Northwest Coast of North America". Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. line feed character in |title= at position 71 (help)
  17. Thornton, Thomas F.; Moss, Madonna L.; Butler, Virginia L.; Hebert, Jamie; and Funk, Fritz. (2010). "Local and Traditional Knowledge and the Historical Ecology of Pacific Herring in Alaska". Journal of Ecological Anthropology.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  18. 18.0 18.1 Cashion, Tim (March 2019). "The economic value of pacific herring in the strait of Georgia".

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