The New England Fishery Management Council voted Tuesday to manage Atlantic herring more conservatively.
Herring are a small, schooling fish frequently used as lobster bait. A recent stock assessment shows the population has reached historic lows over the past five years.
Council members approved a more conservative formula used to set catch limits. The formula will more explicitly take into account herring’s ecological role as a fish eaten by other animals.
The Pew Charitable Trusts nonprofit estimates the new rule will keep an additional 31 million pounds of herring in the water over the next three years.
The Maine Lobstermen's Association says the new regulations would cause bait prices to rise and put people out of business.
But Zach Cockrum, of the National Wildlife Federation, says those prices could rise anyway due to declining population from lack of management.
"Whether someone is a recreational fisherman and wants to be able to catch a healthy population of striped bass, or somebody is trying to buy herring for bait, by ensuring that we have a robust stock and are building that stock as healthily as possible, I think all users will benefit from that," Cockrum says.
The council also banned commercial fishermen from using large fishing nets called mid-water trawls within 12 miles of New England’s coastline.
The changes have been submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service for final approval.