Growth rates of herring in the northern Baltic Sea differ among areas, and have changed substantially over time in some areas in response to environmental change. Weight-at-age of adult herring in some areas of the Finnish herring fishery fluctuated by as much as 60% over the past three decades. Elsewhere, there have been similar but more subtle changes. Growth variation has implications for stock assessment and management: differences suggest a need for considering a smaller spatial structure, at least at the scale of the ICES subdivision, in the case of northern Baltic herring. Changes in growth have an impact on the calculation and use of common biological reference points, and erode the capability of yield projections beyond the short term. Investigation of the impact of growth variation on common reference points of northern Baltic herring revealed that F0.1 was a robust reference despite the marked variability in growth, whereas Fx%SPR (e.g. F35%SPR) was less robust, depending on the definition of maximum spawning-per-recruit. Herring in different areas of the northern Baltic Sea probably require different reference points and possibly different management strategies, as a consequence of differences and variability in growth characteristics.