|Distribution on a NASA SeaWIFS image|
Atlantic herring can be found on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. They range, shoaling and schooling across North Atlantic waters such as the Gulf of Maine, the Gulf of St Lawrence, the Bay of Fundy, the Labrador Sea, the Davis Straits, the Beaufort Sea, the Denmark Strait, the Norwegian Sea, the North Sea, the Skagerrak, the English Channel, the Celtic Sea, the Irish Sea, the Bay of Biscay and Sea of the Hebrides. Although Atlantic herring are found in the northern waters surrounding the Arctic, they are not considered to be an Arctic species.
Fisheries for Baltic herring have been at unsustainable levels since the Middle Ages. Around this time, the primary Baltic herring catch consisted of an autumn-spawning population. Cooling in the mid-16th century related to the Little Ice Age, combined with this overfishing, led to a dramatic loss of productivity in the population of autumn-spawning herring that rendered it nearly extinct. Due to this, the autumn-spawning herring were largely replaced by a spring-spawning population, which has since comprised most of the Baltic herring fisheries; this population is also at risk of overfishing.
Herrings reach sexual maturity when they are 3 to 5 years old. The life expectancy once mature is 12 to 16 years. Atlantic herring may have different spawning components within a single stock which spawn during different seasons. They spawn in estuaries, coastal waters or in offshore banks. Fertilization is external like with most other fish, the female releases between 20,000 and 40,000 eggs and the males simultaneously release masses of milt so that they mix freely in the sea. Once fertilized the 1 to 1.4 mm diameter eggs sink to the sea bed where their sticky surface adheres to gravel or weed. They mature in 1–3 weeks; in 14–19 °C water it takes 6–8 days, in 7,5 °C it takes 17 days. They will only mature if the water temperature stays below 19 °C. The hatched larvae are 3 to 4 mm long and transparent except for the eyes which have some pigmentation.
Herring-like fish are the most important fish group on the planet. They are also the most populous fish.
See also: Herring as food
The Atlantic herring fishery is managed by multiple organizations that work together on the rules and regulations applying to herring. As of 2010 the species was not threatened by overfishing.
They are an important bait fish for recreational fishermen.