TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey environmental officials have shut down the state’s river herring fishery.

The Press of Atlantic City reports that the decision made late this week came in part because the state doesn’t have the necessary personnel or funding to collect the data it needs to prove the fishery is sustainable.

The ruling means the herring — which are often used in the bait business — can no longer be caught with nets and then sold.

It also bars recreational anglers from targeting the herring and, if they happen to catch one, must immediately throw it back.

And commercial fishermen who work offshore and land river herring in federal waters as an accidental by-catch of squid, mackerel and Atlantic herring operations cannot sell the river herring in New Jersey.

The newspaper reported that State Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin ordered the closure on Thursday. That came after the state failed to meet a deadline from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to prove the fishery was sustainable.

Officials say New Jersey was one of several states that didn’t meet the deadline.

Brandon Muffley, who leads the state’s Bureau of Marine Fisheries, said the river herring fishery may be sustainable, but officials don’t have the staff to prove it.

“That’s a big part of it. We don’t have the data,” Muffley said. “We don’t know what river herring’s abundance is or what our fisheries are taking. We haven’t had the resources to do the work.”

In recent years, proponents of a saltwater fishing fee have claimed it was needed as a way to raise funds for this type of research. But the state decided instead to create a saltwater fishing registry with no fee.

“If a whole pile of money and if biologists fell into our laps tomorrow, it would still take some time to collect the data,” Muffley said.

Research indicates the commercial catch for river herring declined from 65 million pounds a year in the mid-1960s to just 1.2 million pounds a year in recent years. A bigger loss is an estimated 3 million pounds a year accidentally caught in trawl nets.

Environmental groups have actively been pushing for controls on river herring because it’s an important forage fish in rivers and the ocean. Herring is eaten by striped bass, cod, whales, dolphins, haddock, seals, river otters, cormorants, herons, eagles and many other species.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)