Pacific Herring are found throughout the coastal zone from northern Baja California on the North American coast, around the rim of the North Pacific Basin to Korea on the Asian coast. In California, Herring are found offshore during the spring and summer months foraging in the open ocean. The largest spawning aggregations in California occur in San Francisco and Tomales Bays. Beginning as early as October and continuing as late as April, schools of adult Herring migrate inshore to bays and estuaries to spawn. Schools first appear in the deep water channels of bays, where they can stay for up to two weeks as their gonads mature, they then move into shallow areas to spawn. Most spawning areas are characterized as having reduced salinity with calm and protected waters. Spawning-substrate such as marine vegetation or rocky intertidal areas are preferred but man-made structures such as pier pilings and riprap are also frequently used spawning substrates.
Fishery Management and Research
The Department of Fish and Wildlife manages the commercial Pacific Herring fishery in California. The Department’s biological and enforcement staff work closely with the fishing industry and environmental organizations to provide for a sustainable and orderly fishery.
The Department has conducted surveys of spawning Herring populations as part of its ongoing monitoring and management of the fishery since the 1970s. In 2019, the Department developed, and the Fish and Game Commission adopted, a state-wide Fishery Management Plan for Pacific Herring (Herring FMP) that addresses current management needs and opportunities for future research. As part of the implementation of this plan, which includes a tired management approach, the Department monitors fishing effort and assesses Herring spawning behavior in management areas with commercial fishery activity. Department scientists also consider a suite of ecological and environmental indices as Essential Fishery Information (EFI). Collectively, these serve to inform quota setting and/or fishery closures.
Commercial Pacific Herring Quotas and Management Tiers for All Areas and Sectors
Per Title 14 California Code of Regulations (CCR) Article 6, which implements the Herring FMP, the Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife sets annual fishing quotas for all management areas and sectors of the commercial herring fishery. These quotas are set in accordance with the management strategy described in Chapter 7 of the Herring FMP, which includes the assignment of each area to one of the three management tiers.
Commercial quotas for San Francisco Bay, Tomales Bay, Humboldt Bay, and Crescent City are established at the levels shown in the table below. For all management areas, regulations allow the take of Herring for both sac-roe and whole fish markets. Herring Eggs on Kelp (HEOK) is allowed only in San Francisco Bay.
Management Area and Fishery Sector
||Management Tier Assignment
||Quota (short tons)
|San Francisco Herring Eggs on Kelp
|San Francisco Bay Herring
|Tomales Bay Herring
|Humboldt Bay Herring
|Crescent City Harbor Herring
For information on the management of the Herring Fishery in California or to report a Herring spawn, please email AskMarine@wildlife.ca.gov.