In a decision lauded by state regulators and decried by environmentalists, federal regulators ruled this week that a plan to extend greater conservation efforts to river herring is not necessary at this time.

The New England Fishery Management Council on Thursday rejected a plan to bring river herring and shad under a federal management plan that controls the fishing of Atlantic herring. Approval would have allowed the council to develop rules about how, when and where river herring and shad can be fished, and how much can be taken.

River herring are “considered to be depleted,” said Lori Steele, a fishery analyst for the council. The fish appear from Canada to Florida and are used for bait and food, and are also a key piece of the food web.

For now, states and the multistate Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will continue to manage the fishery, said Patricia Fiorelli, a spokeswoman for the New England Fishery Management Council. She said the council recognizes that the fish is a “species of concern” but also said the states are heavily involved in its management already.

In Maine, a state where fishermen typically catch more than 1 million pounds of river herring annually, state officials said they supported the decision.

There is a need for more data to assess river herring and shad stocks, but the factors affecting the species include water quality and fish passage, which are difficult to address through federal management plans, said Jeff Nichols, a spokesman for the state Department of Marine Resources.

The New England Fishery Management Council will revisit the issue in the next three years, Fiorelli said.

Some environmentalists criticized the regulators’ decision, including Pew Charitable Trusts director of northeast oceans Peter Baker, who said it was a move to “sit by and allow river herring to continue to decline” rather than take preventative action.

Regulators “had a chance to make a good decision to begin restoring river herring and to halt their decline,” he said.

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