Yarmouth depended on the ferry service to deliver American tourists to the area. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia government says it has received business plans from three companies interested in operating a ferry between Yarmouth and Maine, but an established Maritime company isn't among them.

Bay Ferries used to operate the 'CAT' service and it still runs the crossings between Digby and Saint John and the ferry between Nova Scotia and P.E.I.

The cabinet minister responsible for reviewing the bids says all three firms are credible.

"I don't expect that to be less than three weeks.  I don't think it's possible to be any more specific than that. We're going to take the time that is needed to do the evaluation properly.  But we know decisions have to be made soon in 2013 if the service is going to be re-established for 2014," said Graeme Steele.

The government says the next step is to evaluate the proposals as quickly as possible and determine whether the companies are able to run a viable and sustainable service.

Criteria will include financial stability, management structure, tourism and marketing experience, as well as management history.

The government rejected two bids earlier this year, saying neither met the criteria for a viable operation.

The ferry's former operator, Bay Ferries Ltd., announced in December 2009 that it would cancel the money-losing service after the Nova Scotia government said it could no longer provide an annual $6-million subsidy.

The provincial government faced sharp criticism for killing the ferry subsidies and is now offering $21 million over seven years to restart the service, hopefully next year.

with files from the Canadian Press