Rigby’s Encyclopaedia of the Herring

aka The Herripedia


On the Russian fish systematist who, having dealt the gadoid species, turned his great mind to the clupeidae


Internationalism in herring studies reached its height in the towering figure of the Soviet systematist AN Svetovidov, whose comprehensive Clupeidae (1952) represents just one book in the monumental series Fauna of USSR.

Soviet science was a juggernaut and AN Svetovidov its humble and diligent servant:

It was necessary to combine and process data on all the types of herring in the seas of the USSR. The Zoological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR undertook this task, selecting me to implement it.

They had been impressed by his earlier work in the series on the subject of Gadiformes (cod, pollack, saithe, haddock, hake, whiting, ling and the like) and it is not hard to see why.

As in my work on the Gadiformes, here too I could not confine myself to forms encountered in the waters of the USSR, but had to consider species and genera outside Russian waters, though not in as much detail as with the Gadiformes. The geographical distribution and evolutionary history of the entire herring family is thus covered in a more extensive manner in order to present an accurate picture. The same attitude was assumed in working out the systematics; all available literature was taken into account especially in the description of the subfamilies. I consider it well worthwhile to acquaint other ichthyologists engaged in the detailed study of herrings in the USSR with the whole family. As there has been no comprehensive study of the Clupeidae, such workers often lack knowledge of the herring family in toto.

The Soviet Union’s avowed internationalism occasionally stood, in political, military and economic terms, on feet of clay and it isn’t hard to identify the economic drives that underpinned its commitment to fish science.

Svetovidov acknowledges the commercial importance of the herring family in the very next paragraph. A predatory Soviet factory fleet developed on the back of the Zoological Academy’s heroic commitment to research. The book is, nevertheless, a deeply impressive achievement and a source of wonder.

When considering the Atlantic herring, Svetovidov shares Hodgson’s sensitivity to the idea of herring races, preferring populations and local forms (see Racial Theory).

The development of distinctiveness is seen in the context of a far broader evolutionary pattern which encompasses both genetics and individual environmental adaptations: the number of vertebrae determined, for example, by water temperature at the larval stage.

He draws on a host of sources, only listing essential works in his bibliography of one hundred and five Russian texts and ninety three in other languages.

Svetovidov adopts the Atlantic herring classification system proposed by Le Gall in 1935, which, looking at the European forms unites seven basic types into three groups (see Spawning): the Atlantic or oceanic herring, including spring Atlanto-Scandian and winter Scottish spawners; the coastal herring, which includes the autumn and winter spawners of the English Channel, the winter and spring spawners of the southern entrance to the Irish Sea and the autumn spawners of North Sea (Bank herrings); and the herrings of semi-saline waters, including Norwegian/Swedish fjord, Zuider Zee and Ems/Jade/Morle estuary varieties, along with the Baltic herring as a distinct sub-species within the group.

Svetovidov regrets the lack of serious North American herring research, but suggests an offshore Atlanto-Scandian population and notes spring and autumn spawners in the Gulf of St Lawrence and near the western coast of Nova Scotia, spring and late summer spawners in the Bay of Fundy and late summer/autumn herrings to the south of Cape Cod.

The classification of herrings and other species can depend to a certain extent on which distinguishing features you are looking at and how much weight you accord them. Atlantic and Pacific sub-species are sometimes presented as the separate species.

Suitably humble before the Zoological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Svetovidov is forceful in his arguments with colleagues:

After the present work was completed and had gone to print, I became acquainted with the article of Ponomareva (1951) that is cited in the description of Cl. Harengus harengus and Cl. Harengus pallasii. In her article, L.A. Ponomareva regards low-vertebral-count herrings and high-vertebral-count herrings as two distinct species – Cl. harengus and Cl. pallasii… However, all her arguments in favour of this classification are hampered by limited authority on this matter and insufficient acquaintance with the literature.

Notwithstanding Ponomareva’s ‘limited authority’ and ‘insufficient acquaintance with the literature’, most scientific works on the herring now share her classification of Atlantic and Pacific herrings as separate species.