Herring are unloaded from a fishing boat in Rockland, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

Fishermen who seek one of the most important bait fish on the East Coast are likely to see a dramatic reduction in the amount they are allowed to harvest next year.

Commercial fisheries for herring are a major industry in the Atlantic states, where the little fish is important as lobster bait as well as used for human food. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it wants to cut the annual catch limit from nearly 110 million pounds this year to less than half that in 2019.

NOAA says in a statement that the deep cut is needed to “prevent overfishing and reduce the risk of the stock becoming overfished.” A recent scientific assessment of the herring stock says the fish’s population has fallen in the past five years.