Herring , the general name of the family clupeidoe of the malacopterous or soft-rayed abdominal fishes. The family has been divided by Valenciennes, according to the position of the teeth, size of the ventrals, length of the anal, and projection of the lower jaw, into 16 genera, of which the best known and most important are clupea (the-herring), harengula (the sprat), rogenia (the whitebait), alosa (the shad and pilchard or sardine), and engraulis (the anchovy). The last has been described under Anchovy, and, as the others will be noticed in their regular order, the herrings proper will alone be noticed here. The generic characters of clupea (Cuv.) are small premaxillary teeth, with very fine ones also on the maxillary and symphysial portion of the lower jaw, larger teeth in a longitudinal band on the vomer and centre of tongue, and a few deciduous ones on the palate bones; body elongated and compressed, with rounded back, and sharp, keel-like abdominal edge; scales large, thin, and easily removed; a single dorsal fin, and eight branchiostegous rays; mouth large, and lower jaw the longer; the air bladder is very large, and the number of long and slender bones among the muscular fibres very great; the branchial openings are wide, and the gills remarkable for the length of their fringes, in consequence of which they live but a short time out of water; indeed they die so soon that "dead as a herring" is a common English saying.
The herrings do not ascend rivers like the alewife and shad. - The common American species, or blue-back, sometimes erroneously called "English herring," is the C. elongata (Lesueur); it varies in length from 12 to 15 in.; the color above is deep blue, tinged with yellow, with silvery sides and lower parts; opercles brassy, and, like the sides, with metallic reflections; irides silvery and pupils black. It is found on the coasts of New England, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia; it is generally most abundant from March to May, but according to Mr. Perley is caught on the shores of New Brunswick during every month of the year, precluding the idea that it is migratory.
American Herring (Clupea elongata).
In spring it is often caught in seines and sweep nets to the amount of 100 barrels or more in a single night; it is eaten fresh, salted, and smoked; the young fish, called spirling, make excellent bait for cod. Until within the last 30 years this herring was very abundant on our coasts, frequenting the harbors of Cape Cod in myriads from March till June; since that time it has been comparatively rare; in Massachusetts bay great quantities were formerly caught by nets when following the light of a large torch in a swiftly rowed boat. The herring fishery seems to have been prosecuted by the pilgrims, and we read of the herring "wear" at Plymouth having been rented to three men for a term of three years. Dr. Storer considers the brit, C. minima (Peck), the young of this species. When this herring first made its appearance in Long Island sound in 1817, it was mistaken for the English herring, and it was gravely stated that it followed the British squadron thither in the attack upon Stonington in 1814. Several other American species are described in Storer's "Synopsis of the Fishes of North America." - The common herring of Europe (C. harengus, Linn.) is from 10 to 13 in. long, having the back and the upper portion of the sides sky-blue, with a tinge of sea-green; belly and sides bright silvery; cheeks, gill covers, and irides tinged with gold. - The food of the herring appears to be chiefly minute crustaceans and worms, and sometimes its own fry and other small fish.
It is the popular belief that the herrings retire in winter to the arctic regions, whence they migrate in immense shoals in spring, summer, and autumn to the coasts of Europe, Asia, and America. Yarrell and other modern observers doubt this, and maintain that these fish merely come from deep water to the shores in their spawning season, making no very lengthened journeys, and by no means the migrations described by Pennant and the older naturalists; at any rate they are found on both the American and European coasts at all seasons, but sometimes disappear for years from certain localities, probably as their favorite food is abundant or scarce, and they have not been observed on their return northward. Wherever they come from, they appear in vast shoals, covering the surface of the sea for miles; they afford food for rapacious birds and aquatic animals, and supply material for one of the most important fisheries. They vary considerably in size in different latitudes and in limited localities, being generally largest and in best condition in the north; the time of spawning-is various, as we have spring, summer, and autumn herrings.
Notwithstanding the destruction of these fish by man and animals, their numbers do not diminish, a fact not astonishing when it is remembered that about 70,000 ova exist in each female, a large portion of which might be unfecundated or destroyed, and yet enough remain to stock the ocean. The regularity of their appearance and their immense numbers have made them the pursuit of man from the earliest times; the herring fishery of France dates back to the beginning of the 11th century, and that of Great Britain 300 years earlier, and both have proved excellent schools for seamen for the mercantile and naval service of these countries. It was prosecuted at a very early period also by the Dutch/who fished on the British coasts when the business was comparatively neglected by the English. Amsterdam became at one time a great centre of the trade, and the prosperity of Holland was largely due to it. Political economists in England, France, and Holland have always regarded this fishery as of the greatest national importance, in its influence on the marine service, and as a source of profitable industry at home and of extensive commerce abroad. - The herring fishery is surpassed only by the cod fishery in the value of its products.
The quantity of cured herrings brought in by United States vessels, as reported by the bureau of statistics for the year ending June 30, 1873, was 75,770 cwt, valued at $188,361. besides which large quantities are consumed fresh. Vessels, especially from Gloucester, Mass., visit the coasts of New Brunswick, Newfoundland, the Magdalen islands, and Labrador for herrings. The business is pursued in the spring and winter. An important fishery is during the winter along the coast of Maine and in the bay of Fundy, the herrings being preserved frozen, and sold in the markets of Portland, Boston, New York, and other cities.
European Herring (Clupea harengus).
The product of the Dominion of Canada, as returned by the commissioner of fisheries, for the year ending June 30,1872, was 293,932 barrels of salted and 606,705 boxes of smoked herrings, valued at $1,312,306; the product of Nova Scotia being valued at $082,628, of New Brunswick at $500,628, of Quebec at $87,206, and of Ontario at $41,844. The chief seats of the Newfoundland fishery are Labrador, the bay of Islands, Bonne bay, and St. George's bay on the W. coast, and Fortune bay on the S. coast. In the bay of Islands the herring fishery opens in September and continues throughout the winter. When the bay is frozen the fish are taken in nets through holes in the ice. The exports of herrings from Newfoundland in 1872 amounted to 140,873 barrels salted, and 0,898 fresh. Of the whole amount 53,780 barrels were from Labrador and 53,000 from the French shore. The Scotch herring fishery is pursued along the N. W. and E. coasts, the latter being the seat of the most productive fishery. The quantity cured in 1872 was 773,859 barrels, of which 751,524 were cured on shore, and 22,335 in vessels; 071,703 were cured gutted, and 102,156 ungutted.
The number of vessels fitted out was 95 (making 136 voyages); tonnage, 2,976; number of men, 434. The number of boats employed in a selected week for each district was 8,252; fishermen, 29,378; whole number of employees, including curers, etc, 58,899. The fishery is pursued to some extent in the winter, but chiefly in the summer. Yarmouth is the headquarters of the English herring fishery, employing about 200 vessels and 2,000 men. The winter fishery which closed with January, 1872, was unusually productive, 240,000,000 fish, equivalent to about 600,000 cwt., being landed. The value of the herring fishery along the E. coast of Ireland in 1872 was about £250,000, the greater portion of which was obtained by Cornish, Scotch, and Manx boats. The highest number of boats that fished during the season was 394, of which 116 were Irish, 120 Cornish, 100 Scotch, and 58 Manx. The exports of herrings from the United Kingdom during that year amounted to 031,750 barrels, valued at $891,634. When pickled and packed in barrels they are known in Great Britain as "white" herrings; salted and smoked, they are called "red" herrings. "Bloaters" are herrings slightly cured and smoked, and intended for immediate use. in France, in 1869, 222 vessels of 11,944 tons and 4,209 men were fitted out for the salt herring fishery, and 501 vessels of 14,782 tons and 0,941 men for the fresh herring fishery; 270,150 cwt. of salt and 132,140 of fresh fish were brought in.
The Dutch fisheries, which once surpassed all others, have greatly declined, but the Dutch herrings still command the highest price in the continental markets. The product of the Norwegian fishery is about 1,000,000 barrels a year. In most of the northern countries of Europe large quantities are annually captured. For a detailed account of the habits and fishery of the herring, the reader is referred to vol. xx. of the Histoire naturelle des poissons, by Cuvier and Valenciennes, by whom several other species are described. - The history of this fish is connected with many strange superstitions and beliefs; their sudden disappearance has in va-rious places been attributed to fires on the shores, the discharge of cannon, and the action of steamboat wheels. (See Fisheries.)