SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Lobster fishermen will likely have to contend with another deep cut to the availability of bait next year due to a Tuesday recommendation by a fishery management board.

Federal regulators have slashed the catch limits for Atlantic herring, which is an important source of bait for America's lucrative lobster fishery, over the past year. The New England Fishery Management Council voted Tuesday to again reduce the catch limits, this time to a little more than 25 million pounds in 2020.

The cut would reduce the Atlantic herring catch to its lowest level in decades, and less than a quarter of the 2017 total. The reduction comes on the heels of an earlier cutback that reduced this year's quota to less than 35 million pounds when the catch had been more than 200 million pounds just five years ago.

It remains to be seen how much of an impact the cut in bait supply will have on the lobster industry and consumers of lobster, but another reduction is "certainly not the news we want to hear," said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association.

"Maine lobstermen will continue to identify new bait sources to further diversify our bait supply and develop efficiencies in our bait use," McCarron said.

Regulators have cut herring catch quotas because of a worrying negative trend in the fish's population health. Scientists have said a below-average number of young herring are joining the population of the fish. That's concerning because herring are an important piece of the food chain as forage for whales and larger fish, scientists and environmentalists have said.

The cut in catch could be devastating to New England's herring industry, which is anchored in Maine and Massachusetts, said Mary Beth Tooley, who handles government affairs for Rockland-based O'Hara Corp., a large Maine bait dealer. Some herring remains in storage, but not nearly enough to fill the gap, she said.

"There's not enough storage in New England, freezer storage, for what we need," Tooley said.

The council's recommendation is subject to final approval by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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