Herring are small, oily fish of the genus Clupea found in the shallow, temperate waters of the North Pacific and the North Atlantic, including the Baltic Sea. Two species of Clupea are currently recognized, the Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) and the Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), each of which may be divided into subspecies. Herrings move in vast schools, coming in spring to the shores of Europe and America, where they are caught, salted and smoked in great quantities. Canned "sardines" (or pilchards) seen in supermarkets may actually be sprats or round herrings.
In The Netherlands, herring have played a major role in historical and economic development dating back to the 14th century.
All of the 200 species in the family Clupeidae share similar distinguishing features. They are silvery colored fish that have a single dorsal fin. Unlike most other fish, they have soft dorsal fins that lack spines, though some species have pointed scales that form a serrated keel. They have no lateral line and have a protruding lower jaw. Their overall size varies from species to species: the Baltic herring is small, usually about 14 to 18 centimeters in length, the Atlantic herring can grow to about 46 cm (18 inches) in length and weigh up to 1.5 pounds (680 g), and Pacific herring grow to about 38 cm (15 inches).
Predators of adult herring include seabirds, dolphins, porpoises, striped bass, seals, sea lions, whales, and humans. Sharks, dog fish, tuna, cod, salmon, halibut and other large fish also feed on adult herring. Many of these animals also prey on juvenile herring.
Young herring feed on phytoplankton and as they mature they start to consume larger organisms. Adult herring feed on zooplankton, tiny animals that are found in oceanic surface waters, and small fish and fish larvae. Copepods and other tiny crustaceans are the most common zooplankton eaten by herring. During daylight herring stay in the safety of deep water, feeding at the surface only at night when there is less chance of predation. They swim along with their mouths open, filtering the plankton from the water as it passes through their gills.
Herring are an important economic fish. Adult fish are harvested for their meat and eggs. In Southeast Alaska herring is sold as baitfish. Environmental Defense suggests Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) as one of the more environmentally responsible fish available.http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=15890
Herring has been a known staple food source since 3000 B.C. There are numerous ways the fish is served and many regional recipes: eaten raw, fermented, pickled, or cured by other techniques. The fish was sometimes known as "two-eyed steak".
Large Baltic herring slightly exceeds recommended limits with respect to PCB and dioxin. Nevertheless, the health benefits from the fatty acids are more important than the risk from dioxin; their cancer-reducing effect is statistically stronger than the cancer-causing effect of PCBs and dioxins. The contaminant levels depend on the age of the fish which can be inferred from their size. Baltic herrings larger than 17 cm may be eaten twice a month, while herrings smaller than 17 cm can be eaten freely.
Pickled herring is a popular delicacy in Europe, and has become a basic part of both Jewish and Nordic cuisine. Most cured herring uses a two-step curing process. Initially, herring is cured with salt to extract water. The second stage involves removing the salt and adding flavorings, typically a vinegar, salt, sugar solution to which ingredients like peppercorn, bay leaves and raw onions are added.
In Scandinavia, once the pickling process is finished and depending on which of the dozens of classic herring flavourings (mustard, onion, garlic, lingonberries etc.) are selected, it is usually enjoyed with dark rye bread, crisp bread, or potatoes. This dish is a must at Christmas and Midsummer, where it is enjoyed with akvavit.
Pickled herrings are also common in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, perhaps best known for forshmak salad known in English simply as "chopped herring".
In Sweden, Baltic herring is fermented to make surströmming.
A typical Dutch delicacy is Hollandse Nieuwe, or soused herring, which is raw herring from the catches end of spring, beginning of summer . This is typically eaten with raw onions. Hollandse nieuwe is only available in spring when the first seasonal catch of herring is brought in. This is celebrated in festivals such as the Vlaardingen Herring Festival. The new herring are frozen and enzyme-preserved for the remainder of the year.
Very young herring are called whitebait and are eaten whole as a delicacy.
A kipper is a split and smoked herring, a bloater is a whole smoked herring, and a buckling is a hot smoked herring with the guts removed. All are staples of British cuisine. According to George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, the Emperor Charles V erected a statue to the inventor of bloaters.
Smoked herring is a traditional meal on the Danish island in the Baltic Sea, Bornholm. In Scandinavia, herring soup is also a traditional dish.
In Southeast Alaska, western hemlock boughs are cut and placed in the ocean before the herring arrive to spawn. The fertilized herring eggs stick to the boughs, and are easily collected. After being boiled briefly the eggs are removed from the bough. Herring eggs collected in this way are eaten plain or in herring egg salad. This method of collection is part of Tlingit tradition.