The West of Scotland Herring Hunt

Goal

Herring helped to generate local income, identity, and societal change for centuries in Scotland, but their numbers on the west coast have been in decline since the 1970s. Since herring use specific seabed habitat to deposit their eggs on, it is essential for population recovery that such areas are available when herring return to spawn. 

WOSHH seeks to bridge newly generated scientific information with local ecological knowledge (including historical) to identify and produce evidence for the conservation and restoration of herring spawning habitat on the west coast of Scotland.

How WOSHH wants to achieve this

  • collect habitat information working with Scottish west coast communities, organizations, industry, and individuals, from the Clyde to Cape Wrath and the Hebrides
  • invite citizen scientists to join in on “herring hunts” to report signs of spawning using a forthcoming “Herring Hunt” web app
  • tap into historical local ecological knowledge (e.g., from the last “herring boom” days) across the whole of the Scottish west coast
  • study the role of complex seabed substrate (e.g., maerl) for reproductive success
  • investigate historical herring catches, temperature and climatic anomalies to learn from the past and help predict future trends
  • promote co-management and dialogue between marine stakeholders within inshore waters where space is limited
  • champion the integration of essential spawning habitat into management measures

How you can help herring

Contribute Local Ecological Knowledge

  • Interviews (historic and contemporary)
  • Questionnaires
  • Report herring sightings and evidence of spawning (e.g., using the web app)

Collect Spawning Habitat Information

  • Drop-Down Cameras
  • ROVs
  • Diving
  • Collation/sharing of existing data

Sample Environmental DNA & larvae

  • Collect and filter sea water samples to detect herring DNA in environmental samples (selected sites only)
  • Plankton sampling (read more)
Please get in touch if you are interested in supporting Scottish herring

Growing interest in spring-spawning herring

After spring-spawning herring gathered in large numbers for the first time in nearly 50 years to spawn off the coast of Wester Ross, and the resulting feature on the BBC in 2019, the William Grant Foundation funded the Skye and Wester Ross Fisheries Trust to gather available information on herring spawning habitats in the area. Edinburgh Napier University reviewed scientific literature, scanned historical fisheries and government reports (dating back to the mid 19th century), as well as listened to interviews conducted by Sue Pomeroy, Little Loch Broom Marine Life (on behalf of the Wester Ross Fisheries Trust for Two Lochs Radio station) and spoke to former fishers about their knowledge surrounding spawning habitat. This work is summarised in an open-access article, published in 2022, which includes new maps of historical spawning areas and identified knowledge gaps, particularly for the west coast of Scotland. 

Knowledge gaps identified:

  1. location, habitat type and status of current and historic herring spawning beds in Scottish waters
  2. presence and abundance of larvae on the west coast and inshore waters of Scotland
  3. presence and abundance of spring-spawning herring on the west coast of Scotland


WOSHH, spearheaded by Edinburgh Napier University, was developed to help address some of the identified knowledge gaps across the whole west coast of Scotland. WOSHH collaborates with a diverse range of marine stakeholders interested in the conservation and restoration of herring spawning habitat. 

WOSHH is funded by the William Grant Foundation

Top banner: Shoaling herring near Wester Ross © Andy Jackson, SubSeaTV; reproduced with permission. Additional images: Spotting feeding gannets, ROV survey of spawning grounds, taking water samples for eDNA © Michelle Frost.