The herring has a silver-coloured, streamlined body. It is a pelagic fish, which means that it swims in open waters. In the case of the herring, it means that it swims in shoals, both along the coast and out at sea. There are several herring stocks in Norwegian waters, and the Norwegian spring-spawning herring and the North Sea herring are the most important. Norwegian spring-spawning herring, together with Icelandic spring-spawning herring and Icelandic summer-spawning herring, are a part of the Atlanto–Scandian herring population, which during the course of its life feeds in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea.
Norwegian spring-spawning herring spawn in February–March. Their most important spawning area is off Møre, but they also spawn along the coast of Nordland and Vesterålen. The herring lay their eggs on the bottom, and after three weeks they hatch. The newly-hatched larvae drift northwards with the current along the coast before they drift into the Barents Sea early in the summer. In the Barents Sea, the herring grow until they become 3–4 years old, and then they swim westwards and mix with the spawning stock. When the herring have spawned, they leave for summer feeding grounds in the Norwegian Sea to eat zooplankton. In September/October, the herring gather off Troms and Finnmark and overwinter there. Then they migrate southwards again in January to spawn. Herring can be up to 25 years old.
Herring are very important for the ecosystems along the coast, both in the Norwegian Sea and in the Barents Sea. They feed on plankton and are themselves an important food source for predatory fish such as cod, saithe, other bottom fish, orcas and whales.
Norwegian herring is at its best when it is full of fatty acids. Fishing takes place in the winter during the spawning influx along the Norwegian coast, as well as in summer and autumn. Summer is the best time to get good North Sea herring, while the Norwegian spring-spawning herring is best when it turns back to overwinter off Northern Norway. The herring fishery takes place along the Norwegian coast, in the Norwegian Sea, the North Sea and the strait of Skagerrak. The most common fishing gear is ring nets, pelagic trawls and gillnets.
Each year, Norwegian and international research provides a basis for advice on sustainable catch in the North-eastern Atlantic Ocean. Norway then conducts negotiations on quotas with other countries that fish for the same herring stocks. Based on the negotiations, the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries allocates the Norwegian share to Norwegian fishers. It is the authorities who grant a licence to everyone who participates in the industry, and provisions regarding quota allocation and conduct of the fishery are determined through annual regulations for each individual type of fish (control regulations). It is not permitted to fish for Norwegian spring-spawning herring that are smaller than 25 cm, therefore the fishing is done mainly for adult fish.
According to the ICES, both Norwegian spring-spawning herring and North Sea herring have a good reproductive capacity, and the fishery is sustainable. The stock of Norwegian spring-spawning herring, however, is on the way down after having been at a high level for a time.
The North Sea herring and Norwegian spring-spawning herring fisheries are MSC certified. MSC is an independent environmental label which sets criteria for the requirements to be imposed for sustainable fishing, while it is independent certification bodies that assess whether the individual fisheries meet the requirements.
Food safety/quality control
The Norwegian seafood industry is subject to stringent requirements in order to ensure food safety. It is a system consisting of several bodies which jointly examine and monitor compliance with the requirements in all stages of the production chain. The bodies which supervise food are the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, the Norwegian National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES), the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries and the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries.
The fat content in herring varies between 10 and 24 per cent, depending on the season. Norwegian spring-spawning herring have their highest fat content in autumn, while North sea herring have their highest fat content in summer. Herring is a winner when it comes to health, and it is rich in
- Vitamin D, which is necessary for the right calcium balance in the body and which contributes to maintaining and strengthening the skeleton.
- Protein, which builds and maintains all the cells in the body.
- Marine omega-3 fatty acids, which prevent cardiovascular disease and are important for the development of the brain.
- Selenium, an important element in the enzymes that combat harmful chemical processes in the body.
Herring has a clean, delicate taste of the sea, and the flesh provides suitable chewing resistance. The silvery surface gives the herring a beautiful appearance.
herring is very useful, and processed herring is found in many varieties. Herring can be salted, hot smoked, cold smoked and spiced fillets. In addition, it is used for various types of marinated herring toppings, such as pickled herring, herring in tomato sauce and herring in sour cream. Fresh herring is well-suited to breading and frying. It becomes crisp and golden and goes well with most accompaniments.
North Sea herring that is sexually mature but has not spawned is called Matjes herring or virgin herring. It is caught at its fattest in May-June and is a familiar delicacy in the Netherlands and Belgium.