Herring quotas have been slashed since a 2020 assessment found the species to be overfished.
In this July 27, 2018, file photo, the Ruth & Pat, a herring seine boat, motors out of the fog off the coast of South Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Fishermen in Maine’s historic herring fishing business will receive money from the federal government to help cope with a decline in the fish’s population that has caused the industry to struggle.

The government has appropriated $7 million for the fishermen, the Maine Department of Marine Resources said Wednesday. Atlantic herring were found to be overfished via a 2020 scientific assessment, and fishing quotas were slashed after that.

The herring are especially important to New England’s fishing industry because they are used as bait by lobster fishermen. They’re also used as food, and people have fished for them from New England waters for hundreds of years.

The Maine marine department said the money is available to federal permit holders and state licensed holders. It said recipients will receive a minimum of $15,000.

The nation’s catch of Atlantic herring has plummeted in the face of quota cuts and concern over the health of the stock. Fishermen caught more than 200 million pounds of the fish as recently as 2014 and that total fell to less than 11 million pounds in 2021.

The loss of herring has led to a bait crunch for lobster fishermen, who have had to seek other sources of bait for traps.