California Department of Fish and Wildlife

State-Managed California Commercial Pacific Herring Fishery

Pacific Herring, Clupea pallasi, Credit: CDFW

Commercial Herring Vessel San Francisco Bay, Photo Credit: Ryan Bartling
The commercial herring fishery is one of the few fisheries in California that undergo annual population assessments and subsequent regulatory change. Like other short-lived coastal pelagic species, Pacific herring abundance fluctuates widely due to variable recruitment (the success of each year-class of new fish), making annual population assessments necessary for effective management. This allows CDFW and the Commission to integrate new information into management of the fishery on a timely basis.

Commercial Herring Catch, Photo Credit: Ryan Watanabe
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 in San Francisco Bay.

California herring fisheries occur during the spawning season as herring move into bays and estuaries along the coast. The roe herring gill net fisheries catch herring as they move into the shallows to spawn when the eggs have fully matured. The primary product from this fishery, kazunoko, is the sac roe (eggs) in the females which are processed and exported for sale to Japan. Historically, roe herring fisheries have occurred in the Crescent City area, Humboldt Bay, Tomales Bay, and San Francisco Bay. Currently, San Francisco has the only active herring fishery in California. Fishing for fresh fish is also permitted during the gill net fishery, though the market is relatively minor at this time.

The San Francisco Bay herring eggs-on-kelp fishery suspends giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, from rafts for herring to spawn on in shallow water areas. The kelp is harvested near the Channel Islands and/or in Monterey Bay and then transported to San Francisco Bay. The product of this fishery is the egg-coated kelp blades that are processed and exported to Japan. This product, komochi or kazunoko kombu, is typically served as an appetizer during New Year's celebrations.

California Commercial Herring Fisheries Information

Commercial Herring Vessel Unloading in Tomales Bay, Photo Credit: Ryan Watanabe


Opportunities for Public Involvement and Input

California Environmental Quality Act and Annual Regulatory Process

The Pacific herring commercial regulations are updated every year. In addition, potential environmental impacts of the fishery are addressed each year in an environmental document, in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Both the regulatory and CEQA processes provide the public with several opportunities each year to provide input to CDFW and the Commission on the management of California's Pacific herring resource.