A federal cabinet minister from P.E.I. says it's time the lobster fishery looked at boat quotas in response to slumping prices at the wharf this season, a suggestion that's sparking a reaction in Nova Scotia.
Minister of National Revenue Gail Shea, a former federal fisheries minister, told the Journal Pioneer the lobster industry needs to talk about the "taboo subject" of lobster quotas.
"What the industry needs to do is they need to sit down and have a serious conversation about how and when they fish lobster," Shea told the Summerside newspaper in an article posted to the paper's website on Dec. 28.
"I've talked to a lot of fishermen about, 'Is it time to go to talk about boat quotas at their meetings?' Maybe it is."
John Levy, a Nova Scotia lobster fisherman who serves on several fishermen's organizations, said a boat quota would spell the "end of the independent lobster fishery as we know it."
Currently, each owner-operator is allotted a certain number of traps which can be fished any time through a season. A boat quota would limit the catch.
Shea, the MP for Egmont, was unavailable for an interview with CBC News on Wednesday.
Levy blames a slumping U.S. economy for low lobster prices this season, a situation he said will not change with a quota. He warned quotas may lead to consolidation.
"When you put a quota on something, the same as with the ground fishery, what happened was companies started buying up the quota," he told CBC News.
Dockside delays predicted
Levy said he believes some fishermen will support quotas if they can be convinced it will lead to higher prices, but he think it will lead to dockside delays and expenses for the more than 700 licence holders in his southwestern Nova Scotia fishing area — LFA 33.
"When you come in, whatever catch or lobsters you have aboard your boat, that has to be monitored to go against your quota," said Levy.
"There has to be a dockside monitor, separate from you, that is registered through DFO, a third party, that would have to weigh out your catch."
Levy said he's taking Shea's comments seriously, adding he has heard similar suggestions from Fisheries and Oceans Canada in the past year.
The Lobster Council of Canada declined comment on Wednesday, though a spokesperson said that "everybody is talking about" Shea's remarks.
A spokeswoman for Keith Ashfield, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, declined to provide a position on lobster boat quotas.
"Our government and Minister Ashfield have indicated that any change to the fisheries would have to be industry led and driven. We welcome industry ideas and initiatives to improve the long-term prosperity and sustain ability of Canada's important fisheries," Barbara Mottram wrote in an email to CBC News.