ROCKLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Maine’s huge lobster fishery could run into problems this year because fishermen might face a shortage of bait.

Herring are the primary bait for lobsters, but the people who catch the herring say they’re worried the quota for those fish could be used up too quickly. So the state is imposing new controls.

Herring fishermen say the problem is that herring are not being caught right now on Georges Bank off Massachusetts. That’s typically a prime spot for boats from Massachusetts and other states to pursue herring.

The fish were once the key to a significant Maine sardine canning industry. But the last cannery closed several years ago, and herring are now used for bait and for some animal feed.

Federal regulators have imposed a quota of 19,4 thousand metric tons of herring for the season that runs through September. However, because of the scarcity of fish on Georges Bank, the large out-of-state boats have started coming to Maine to fish.

Owners and operators of the smaller Maine boats that fish closer to shore say they’re worried the summer herring quota will be caught too quickly. Herring fishermen say if the quota is used up they won’t have bait to sell to lobstermen, at a time when the lobster fishing is heating up.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources met with herring fishermen Tuesday afternoon to outline a new plan to limit the number of days they can fish and how many fish they can catch. The state hopes that will stretch the fishery out until late August or September, and make sure there is a consistent supply of lobster bait.

DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher said they all hope that by September those out-of-state boats will again start catching herring on Georges Bank. If that happens, fishermen said, the problem for lobstermen will be over. If herring don’t show up on Georges, Keliher said, the lobster industry will face a “critical bait situation.” That would presumably force lobstermen to look other places, including outside of Maine, to find the bait they need.

Fishermen and the DMR said the problem on Georges Bank does not reflect a population decline for herring. They believe herring stocks are in generally good shape.

Instead, they said that herring move from one area to another during the year, further out to sea in winter and close to shore to spawn in summer.ank does not reflect a population decline for herring. They believe herring stocks are in generally good shape. Instead, they said that herring move from one area to another during the year, farther out to sea in winter and close to shore to spawn in summer.