Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



Clupea harengus is a streamlined shoaling fish. It may reach up to 40 cm in length and 0.68 kg in weight. The overall colouring of the body is silver but a darker blue iridescence is present over the upper half of the body. The underside is considerably paler. The body is deeper than it is wide, which improves the streamlined nature of the fish. The tail is deeply forked and has a single dorsal fin. The pelvic fins are situated slightly in front of the line of the dorsal fin. These, as well as the pectoral fins are not bony, like in many other fish, but are soft.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

The Atlantic herring is widespread in UK and Irish waters, occurring in the North Sea, the English Channel, the Irish Sea as well as the Northern Atlantic.

Global distribution



Clupea harengus is pelagic in its distribution and occurs in the surface waters down to a depth of around 200 m. Outside of the spawning season, Clupea harengus stays away from the immediate coastal areas. It is often found in vast near-surface shoals covering an area of several square kilometers.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Streamlined, shoaling, pelagic species.
  • Overall silver colouring but with darker blue upper half.
  • Up to 40 cm in length and 0.68 kg in weight.
  • Deeply forked tail and single dorsal fin.

Additional information

Clupea harengus is a highly commercial marine fish and is being threatened by over-harvesting by commercial fishing fleets (Whitehead, 1985). Maturity is reached between the ages of 3 and 9 years. Atlantic herring predominantly feeds on small shrimps or copepods but is also known to filter-feed should the need arise.


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This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Clupea harengus Atlantic herring. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 15-06-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 27/03/2008