Pacific Herring



The Meat:

Herring meat is strong in flavor and soft in texture. It firms up really nicely when pickled. Herring can be grilled, pickled, smoked, broiled or pan fried. De-boning a herring is a tad more difficult than de-boning a sardine, but done the same way. If you're smoking your herring remember, our herring have much less fat than the Atlantic herring that are typically used for "kippers." So when marinating your local herring make sure to add a touch of oil or fat to the mix.


Of all the fish that end up in the Neptune's Delight orders, herring require the most work.  They will need to be scaled and gutted, or filleted.  For pickling do not chunk the herring, fillet them.  There's no easy way around this.  Crack a beer or pour yourself a glass of wine and embrace the process of getting intimate with your fish!  Remember, if you find eggs inside the females you can brine them and make your own kazunoko--or something close to it!


Health concerns:

Again, this is one of those low on the food chain, fast growing, short-lived species that is high in Omega 3's and low in all the bad stuff.  Yes, they are caught inside SF Bay, but they are not here to eat.  They are here to spawn.  They do not live long enough, nor feed high enough on the food chain to bioaccumulate problematic toxins.  They are in our estuary for a few months each year and then migrate back out to the open ocean where they live most of their lives.

Gear and fishery info:
  • Scientific Name:                       Clupea pallasii


  • Habitat:  The Pacific herring is a coastal schooling species. They spawn in inshore waters and feed in offshore waters. They occupy the water column from the surface to depths of 1300 feet.


  • Diet: They feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton in nutrient-rich waters associated with oceanic upwelling. Young feed mainly on crustaceans, but also eat decapod and mollusk larvae, whereas adults prey mainly on large crustaceans and small fishes.


  • Size: Up to more than 18 inches and 1.2 lbs.  But in SF the herring are substantially smaller. Fish over 11 inches are rare.


  • Range:  Pacific Herring have numerous populations throughout the North Pacific Ocean and adjacent seas. In the western North Pacific, they are found throughout the Western Bering Sea to Kamchatka, in the Sea of Okhotsk, around Hokkaido, Japan, and south and west to the Yellow Sea. In the eastern North Pacific Ocean herring range from Baja California, Mexico, north to the Beaufort Sea, Alaska. Pacific herring are also found in the Russian Arctic from the Chukchi Sea to the White Sea.



2010 - present

2010 - present

The local commercial herring fishery is a gill-net only fishery. Although there is also a herring-eggs-on-kelp fishery, where the "kelpers" harvest the eggs after the fish have spawned.


The way the gill net fishery works is as follows: Gill nets are set in areas where herring are about to spawn or are already spawning. The net, suspended by floats and anchored, hangs like a curtain in the water. The fish swm into the net and their heads get caught at the gills (hence: gill net). A good boat can catch about 20 tons in one good day. The gill net quota for 2013 was set at about 3,000 tons--or 5 percent of the estimated biomass (approx: 60,000 tons). This is the last great commercial fishery inside an urban area that I know of.


Almost all local herring (at least 99 percent) go towards the kazunoko (roe) trade in Japan. What happens to the 98 percent of the body that isn't eggs? Or the males? Three things: fertilizer, catfood or bait. Yes, considering how awesome herring are, there is considerable waste in this fishery.


By eating herring and creating markets for them locally, we are bucking the trend towards export, creating local demand, and hopefully giving the fishermen an easier, more lucrative option of selling locally.

Fish Nerdism 101:

I am restraining myself here because I have already clogged cyberspace with a seemingly endless amount of verbiage and video on this subject. Let's see... what's interesting... did you know that herring communicate by passing gas? It's true. Large scale movements of herring schools are facilitated by the use of repetitive ticking noises. Labeled FRT (Fast Repetitive Ticking) by punnish herring biologists.


Herring supposedly live up to 14 years but for whatever reason, no one has seen a herring over 8 years of age in something like 10-12 years in SF Bay--which is odd considering how well the population is supposedly doing.

Parting Shots

To really get a sense of the awesome, inspirational wonderment of our local herring fishery, you really should try to witness a spawn.  Comb the bay with binocs during herring season (Dec-March) and look for huge flocks of birds, seals and/or herring boats.  Or come and attend one of my herring tours.  E-mail me your phone number so I can text you when "the spawn is on."