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Sprat, whitebait

Sprattus sprattus

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Mid water 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 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

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 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
English Channel

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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 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 index of stock biomass (average landings per unit of effort of mid-water trawls) has increased substantially since 2008. ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches in 2016 should be no more than 4598 tonnes.


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 2015, Book 5

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