We gathered mitochondrial DNA sequences (557 bp from the control region in 935 specimens and 668 bp of the cytochrome b gene in 139 specimens) of Pacific herring collected from 20 nearshore localities spanning the species’ extensive range along the North Pacific coastlines of Asia and North America. Haplotype diversity and nucleotide diversity were high, and three major phylogeographic lineages (sequence divergences ca. 1.5%) were detected. Using a variety of phylogenetic methods, coalescent reasoning, and molecular dating interpreted in conjunction with paleoclimatic and physiographic evidence, we infer that the genetic make-up of extant populations of C. pallasii was shaped by Pleistocene environmental impacts on the historical demography of this species. A deep genealogical split that cleanly distinguishes populations in the western vs. eastern North Pacific probably originated as a vicariant separation associated with a glacial cycle that drove the species southward and isolated two ancestral populations in Asia and North America. Another deep genealogical split may have involved either a vicariant isolation of a third herring lineage (perhaps originally in the Gulf of California) or it may have resulted simply from the long coalescent times that are possible in large populations. Coalescent analyses showed that all the three evolutionary lineages of C. pallasii experienced major expansions in their most recent histories after having remained more stable in the preceding periods. Independent of the molecular calibration chosen, populations of C. pallasii appear to have remained stable or grown throughout the periods that covered at least two major glaciations, and probably more.