Drivers of Atlantic herring decline and evidence basis for fisheries closures and rebuilding plans

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Canadian Science Publishing


Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) are economically and ecologically significant but have been in decline in Atlantic Canada due to an uncertain combination of environmental recruitment controls, predation, and fishing (commercial fishery and poorly documented bait removals). Fisheries and Oceans Canada partially closed Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) and herring fisheries in March 2022 amid controversy and disagreement. Here, we develop a conceptual model for natural and anthropogenic controls on herring abundance centered on the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence (sGSL) and evaluate the likely importance of each. We provide the first estimates of the magnitude of bait fishery withdrawals in the sGSL. The decline in sGSL herring is likely driven by natural predation exacerbated by fishing. Bait fishery removals were 182 tonnes in 2021, suggesting that previous estimates for removals of spring-spawning herring were ∼30% too low. Fisheries closure is consistent with a precautionary approach given uncertainties and irreversibility of stock collapse. Ecosystemic models are needed but will be difficult to develop given the incomplete understanding of prey substitutability and net effect of interacting environmental processes.



Atlantic herring, bait fishery, fishery rebuilding, fishery closure, environmental modelling, precautionary principle