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Baltic herring (Clupea harengus membras) is a species of herring found only in the Baltic Sea. It is smaller than the common herring (Clupea harengus) found in the North Atlantic or North Sea, and contains less fat.

In Finland, to separate the two species from one another, it has been prescribed by the Finnish Ministry of Trade and Industry that in order to be called a herring, a fish must contain a minimum of 10 % fat. The fish containing fat less than that are called Baltic herrings.

Baltic herrings
In picture above: fresh Baltic herrings.

Although Baltic herring is relatively small in size and has a low market value, it is the most economically important species fished in Finland. It contains healthy fatty acids and minerals and is a vital source of protein and vitamin D.

Smoked Baltic herrings
In picture above: freshly smoked Baltic herrings.

Besides eaten freshly salted, fried, baked or smoked, Baltic herring is also salted, pickled or marinated in numerous ways, being one of the most popular fish species consumed in Finland. Herring and Baltic herring dishes are an indispensable part of the Nordic smörgåsbord.

Finnish smoked herring, as indeed all domestically produced smoked fish products, like salmon, is always naturally smoked and never artificially coloured, like smoked fish often is in countries like Britain, Ireland, the U.S.A., etc.

Herring market

Cobbler\'s salmon In the central Market Square of Helsinki, the capital of Finland, a Baltic Herring Fair is held annually, a Finnish tradition dating back to the 16th century. The fair has been organized during the first week of October since the year 1819.

Besides the traditional salted and pickled Baltic herring prepared in a multitude of ways, also a wide selection of other foods and archipelagic products can be purchased at the fair, sold by the attending fishermen and islanders.

In picture above: "cobbler's salmon" is a popular Finnish Baltic herring preparation.

See a recipe for traditional Finnish fried Baltic herring fillets.

Gutting and cleaning of Baltic herring

Figure 1
Figure 1

1. Preferably using (fish) scissors, cut off the head of the fish, starting just behind the pectoral fins (the two fins behind the head) and gills.

Figure 2
Figure 2

2. Pull off the head, some entrails may follow.

Figure 3
Figure 3

3. Open the stomach side by cutting off
a thin strip of the flabby flesh from head to tail.

Figure 4
Figure 4

4. Cut off the tail and pull out or cut off the dorsal fin. Remove the entrails by scraping them off with your thumb, from tail end to head. You can very briefly rinse the inside under running cold water and pat dry with paper towel.

Figure 5
Figure 5

5. Loosen the backbone and the small, thin bones attached to it by sliding your thumbnail(s) under them from one end to the other, opening the fish up from the middle as you do this.

Figure 6
Figure 6

6. Pull out the backbone. Do this gently
so as not to rip off the soft flesh.

Figure 7
Figure 7

7. You now have a double fillet of Baltic herring.

Figure 8
Figure 8

8. The skin on the backside is not removed,
but left to hold the two fillets together.

Baltic Sea pollution

The Baltic Sea is the world's largest body of brackish water, in which both saltwater and freshwater plant and animal species are found living. It is also estimated to be the world's most polluted sea, due to the fact that its water is replaced very slowly compared with other seas.

The main problem causing this are the narrow and shallow straits restricting the water flow. Pollutants are not washed away, but remain in the sea for decades, unless sedimented to the bottom.

Since the early 1990s, high levels of heavy metals and organic contaminants, like dioxin and PCB compounds, have been recorded in the Baltic Sea fish, particularly in salmon and Baltic herring.

The European Union has set up strict limits on presence of dioxin in food and feed. The concentrations of dioxin in the Baltic herring caught in Finnish coastal waters are significantly higher than the prescribed EU maximum, which has lead to tougher dietary restrictions in Finland.

It is recommended that persons eating fish more than twice a week should vary the type of fish they enjoy, reducing the amount of oily fish from the Baltic in their diet. Eating of large, older fish (more than 17 centimetres long) should be especially avoided, since the fat-soluble contaminants tend to enrich in the fish as they mature.

However, the Baltic herring is a vital source of protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fatty acids for the Finns, so the health benefits of the fish are also taken into consideration when balancing the harms and benefits of consuming it.

The European Union has allowed Finland and Sweden to sell Baltic fish products exceeding the maximum dioxin content prescribed by the EU, provided that sufficient studies about the effects of dioxin will be carried out and the consumers are informed with new dietary regulations.

The export of Finnish fish products exceeding the maximum dioxin content to other EU member countries, excluding Sweden, has been forbidden.


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