As a charity MCS relies on your generous support


MCS Home

Good Fish Guide

return to search Return to search results


Click to enlarge

Sprat, whitebait

Sprattus sprattus

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Pelagic trawl
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - English Channel
Stock detail - VIId,e
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 a good choice of sustainable fish to eat and should be only eaten very occasionally. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find more sustainable fish to eat.

Sustainability overview

The status of the stock in this area is unknown although biomass is reported to be increasing. Sprat is short-lived and an important prey fish for many marine species. The effects of the sprat fishery on these species is unknown. Sprat is usually caught with bycatches of juvenile herring.


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 16 cm. 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
English Channel

View map areas

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 assessment for the species in these areas except for the North and Baltic Seas. The stock structure of sprat populations in the Celtic Seas Ecoregion is unknown. No reference points are defined for this stock. The acoustic survey, used to indicate stock size, shows a decline in the stock size since 2015. The average landings per unit of effort (LPUE) of mid-water trawls, previously used as an index of stock biomass, is no longer used as the basis for the scientific advice as the number of vessels contributing to the series has decreased from three to one in 2015, making the series less reliable and a new acoustic survey is now used as an indicator of stock size. Fishing pressure is evaluated as stable and stock size as decreasing.
ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches in 2017 should be no more than 3678 tonnes (4598 tonnes in 2016).


The International Baltic Sea Fishery Commission (IBSFC) long-term management plan for the Baltic sprat stock was terminated in 2006 and has not been replaced. For the other stocks there are no specific management objectives known to ICES, there is no management plan for sprat in this area. Sprats are only subject to quota in the North Sea (ICES Area IV) and in ICES Areas VIId and VIIe and the Baltic.

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 2016, Book 5

Return to top Return to top

Sign up to get the latest marine information from the Marine Conservation Society


Sign up to get all the latest marine related news from MCS

The UK charity for the protection of our seas, shores and wildlife.

Read more about MCS

The MCS website uses 'Cookies' to enhance your web experience. Please read our data and cookie policy.
If you do not wish to use cookies please read how to disable cookies. Don't show this message again