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Sprattus sprattus

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Pelagic trawl
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - North Sea, English Channel, West of Scotland, Southern Celtic Seas
Stock detail - IV, VIId,e, VI, VIIa-c and f-k
Certification -
Fish type - Oily fish

Sustainability rating Click for explaination of rating

This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed above, is not the most sustainable choice of fish to eat. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find more sustainable fish to eat.

Sustainability overview

Sprat in the North Sea is healthy and harvested sustainably. Sprat is short-lived species and an important prey fish for many marine species. The effects of the sprat fishery on these species is unknown and concern has been expressed about the preservation of inshore sprat as a food resource for breeding birds. Sprat are also under pressure from industrial fisheries. With high removals and current uncertainty in status, sprat reduction fisheries, without proper stock assessment and management, are likely much less sustainable.


Sprat is a relatively short-lived species. It is one of the most important prey species in marine ecosystems, for both fish, seabirds and marine mammals. It is a pelagic inshore schooling species that can tolerate low salinities. Sprat migrates between winter feeding and summer spawning grounds. Moves to the surface at night. High resilience to fishing pressure. Maximum size 16cm. Sprat are multiple batch spawners, with females spawning repeatedly throughout the spawning season (up to 10 times in some areas). Spawning occurs in both coastal and offshore waters, during spring and late summer, with peak spawning between May and June, depending on water temperature. Spawning generally takes place at night. Sprat generally first spawn at 2 years of age, though a small proportion of the population spawn at 1 year of age.

Stock information

Stock area
North Sea, English Channel, West of Scotland, Southern Celtic Seas

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Stock information
Distinct sprat stocks exist in the North, Baltic and Celtic Seas, West of Scotland, English Channel and the Skagerrak and Kattegat areas. There are no formal stock assessments for the species in these areas except for the North and Baltic Seas. The North Sea stock is assessed as healthy and above recommended levels. The latest recruitment estimate is the highest on record. ICES advice for sprat in the North Sea is that the wanted catch (the fish that would be landed in the absence of the EU landing obligation) should be no more than 506k tonnes. This represents a 201% increase on advice for catches given in previous years (227,000t in 2014-15; 144,000t in 2013-14; 134,000 t in 2012-13) ; for sprat in the Celtic Sea and west of Scotland, the same advice as given in 2013 and 2014 and 2015 is valid for 2015 and 2016 and is that catches should decrease by 20% in relation to the last ten year average landings and be no more than 3500 tonnes in each of the years. No reference points are defined for the stock in the English Channel but indications are the stock has increased substantially since 2008.


There are no management plans for sprat in these areas.

Capture information

The main fisheries for sprat are the Norwegian purse seine fishery and the Danish industrial small mesh trawl fishery; both fisheries are reduction fisheries, i.e. landings are reduced to or processed into fish meal and oil. In the Celtic Sea they are caught by small pelagic vessels that also target herring. Fisheries with small meshed nets (16mm) will also catch a relatively high amount of small and juvenile fish. Sprat landings are used for both human consumption and fish meal. In the Channel most of the sprat landings are taken by the English fleet for human consumption, and this is primarily carried out by midwater trawler which has negligible impact on the seabed. Small quantities of sprat are landed in the UK from inshore boats fishing artisanally. The majority of landings from the North Sea are taken in the Danish industrial fishery. In this fishery there is a permitted 10% bycatch of herring. Recent increases in North Sea herring have further limited the fishery for sprat due to the bycatch limit on herring within the fishery.

Read more about capture methods

ICES Advice 2015, Book 6; ICES Advice 2014, Book 6;

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