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Documenting and Modeling Herring Spawning Areas within Socio-Ecological Systems over Time in the Southeastern Gulf of Alaska
Life History
Geographic Distribution
Pacific Herring: Clupea pallasi


There are fifteen species of herring (also referred to as sardines or pilchards). A schooling fish, herring are commonly active at night and located during moonlit voyages as they bunch in characteristic feeding frenzies known as “balling.” Herring are distinguished by a silvery, blue-green sheen, laterally compressed morphology, exhibiting a single dorsal fin, and appear as if to have a slight underbite of the jaw. Average length of a mature Pacific herring is reported by some to be 38cm (15in), but this average has been in decline since the onslaught of the commercial fisheries and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports a 9 inch herring is considered large.

Life History

Predators of Pacific herring are whales (grey), dolphins, birds (gulls), seals, Steller sea lions, larger fish (shark, dogfish, salmon, cod, halibut) and of course, humans. Planktivores, herring feed on phytoplankton, euphausids, also copepods, mysids, amphipods and zoea of crabs mainly by filter feeding. Clupea pallasi is sometimes referred to as a keystone species.

Spawning seasons vary by geographic region, anytime from December to July depending on the latitude. In Alaska herring can be found spawning in late March and can continue through mid-July depending on the location.

The eggs of Pacific herring are 1 to 1.5 mm in diameter, pale, amber and translucent. Eggs exhibit adhesive qualities and when deposited by females on intertidal and subtidal vegetation (kelp, seaweed, eelgrass, spruce boughs) stick to the substrate in large masses. Males then pass over the eggs, releasing milt to fertilize them.

Geographic Distribution

Pacific herring are found in the Pacific Ocean the length of the North American coast, as far south as the continental shelf of Baja California, as far north as Alaska and the Bering Sea, and follows along the coast of Asia south to Japan. Herring are found along the coast of Alaska from its southern boundary at Dixon Entrance (55° N) to Norton Sound (64° N) in the north. Major concentrations are found in the Bering Sea.

Herring may migrate inshore to breed but the species does not have any strong north-south migrations. Apparently landlocked populations (races) exist in the lakes of South Sakhalin, eastern Hokkaido and eastern Honshu.


Alaska Department of Fish and Game
FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department
Haegele, C. W., and A. S. Hourston 1980 Herring on Canada’s Pacific Coast. Ottawa: Campbell Printing.

Huizer, E.J. 1952 History of Alaska Herring Fishery. Annual Report for 1952:65-76


Morphology | Life History | Geographic Distribution
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