River herring are seen through a viewing window at the Milford Dam fishway at Brookfield Energy in Milford. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

Environmental groups are cheering a decision to restrict herring fishing off the East Coast, but the New England lobster industry is concerned about the possibility of a bait crunch.

Herring are harvested off New England for use as bait and food. They’re the most important bait for lobster traps. A regulatory board Tuesday approved new restrictions for the herring fishery, including a coastal buffer zone to keep out mid-sized trawlers from sensitive herring spawning, feeding and nursery habitat.

Zach Cockrum of National Wildlife Federation’s Northeast Regional Center, says the moves represent “a step in the right direction at a time when herring are at a dangerous tipping point.”

But Maine Lobstermen’s Association executive director Patrice McCarron says the restrictions could be “devastating” for lobster fishermen who will lack bait.

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