Herring Island was created in 1928, when the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (now known as the Board of Works) cut a river 'channel through the abandoned Richmond basalt quarries as a flood mitigation measure, thus isolating a small triangular piece of land within one of the Yarra's meander bends. This piece of land became known as Como Island, taking its name from the well-known Melbourne property to the south of this area. A dredging depot was established by the Board in one of the abandoned quarries, and from 1930 to 1976 silt was deposited on the Island. A major flood in 1934 washed a substantial part of Como (Herring) Island away. The BOW subsequently beached the island and constructed a levee bank around the perimeter to prevent further flood damage. In 1935, an extensive planting program began to further consolidate and beautify the island. The swamp mahoganies (Eucalyptus botryoides), cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), pines (Pinus radiata), paperbarks (Melaleuca styphelioides) and Kurrajongs (Brachychiton populneus) which are now evident among Herring Island's vegetation were planted by the BOW during this period. Although Herring Island was used almost exclusively by the BOW until the 1950s, Richmond City Council was appointed as Committee of Management for Como Island during this period.

In 1950 the Scout Association of Victoria approached the Department of Crown Lands & Survey regarding use of Herring Island and were granted a 21 year lease from 1951. In 1952 it was renamed Herring Island by the Scout Association, commemorating Sir Edmund Herring in recognition of his contribution to the Scouts and other youth. The Scouts constructed dormitory facilities and connected services such as water and electricity. The only substantial structure on Herring Island today is the dormitory building erected by the Scout Association in 1965 after the previous facility was destroyed by fire. Nature study formed a large component of Scout activities on Herring Island. However, the BOW continued to deposit silt on the central and southern sections during their tenancy. This interfered with Scout usage and in 1970 the Victorian Scouts Association vacated Herring Island.

The Department of Crown Land and Survey granted the BOW permissive occupancy of Herring Island from 1974 until 1980, after which time their lease was not renewed.

In recent years, a new Committee of Management has been appointed. The Friends of Herring Island have been active in works such as pest plant and animal control, revegetation, organising open days and school visits to Herring Island.