Forage Fish
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Closeup photo of Pacific Herring with descriptions of identifying anatomy.
Photo: Closup of a Pacific Herring on the beach. Photo: A large pile of Pacific Herring

Forage Fish Identification Guide

Pacific Herring
Clupea pallasii

Commonly caught in Puget Sound by commercial harvesters using lampara nets during the directed bait fishery.  Incidentally caught off the Washington coast by commercial harvesters during trawl and seine fisheries.  Commonly caught in Puget Sound by recreational harvesters using forage fish jig gear.  See the Sportfishing Regulation Pamphlet.

Description: The body of the Pacific Herring is compressed with silver sides and belly and a greenish to bluish back.  Pacific Herring have one short dorsal fin near the middle of the back, abdominal pelvic fins, and no black spots on the sides (as compared to American Shad and Pacific Sardine).  The lower jaw of this species protrudes; their scales are large and slough off easily.  This species has a strongly forked caudal fin and no adipose fin.

Maximum Size: To 48 cm (18 in) in length, 30 cm (12 in) in length in Washington State.

Maximum Age: Up to 19 years, 9 years in Washington State.

Range/Habitat: Pacific Herring range from Korea and Japan to the Arctic Ocean off Alaska and to Northern Baja, California. In the Eastern Pacific they are abundant from Central California to the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.  Pacific Herring are found from the surface to 250 m (820 ft).  Young-of-the-year Pacific Herring are frequently found schooling nearshore, often near eelgrass, kelp, and rock reefs.  Some populations are highly migratory, moving inshore during the spawning season, away from shore to feed, and then to offshore wintering grounds.

Additional Information


  • Johnson, S.W., A.D. Neff and M.R. Lindeberg, 2015.  A handy field guide to the nearshore marine fishes of Alaska. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-AFSC-293. 222 p.
  • Love, M.S., 2011. Certainly More Than You Want to Know About The Fishes of The Pacific Coast: A Postmodern Experience. Really Big Press, Santa Barbara, California, 650 p.

Photo: L. Hillier, P. Campbell and WDFW