The Nova Scotia government has slapped an indefinite freeze on new entrants into the buying side of the province's seafood industry, including the lucrative lobster fishery.

Under a temporary measure, the provincial government is no longer issuing new seafood buyer and processing licences.

Sources say the freeze went into effect Jan 11.

Protecting the industry

Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell made the announcement Tuesday at a meeting of dozens of industry players who are being consulted with as part of a departmental review of plant licensing.

"We've put a freeze in place to stop everything until we get a new framework in place and new policy, maybe a new act," Colwell said. "I don't know where it's going to lead us."

Keith Colwell

Keith Colwell is Nova Scotia's Fisheries and Aquaculture minister. (CBC)

Colwell said he is trying to protect the industry during the review.

"We just didn't want everyone to come in and get a fish processing licence and no fish plant and no intention of ever using, just in case it becomes valuable," Colwell said.

Will N.S. make limits permanent?

Colwell has not committed yet to limiting entry into the seafood buying and processing sector on a permanent basis, as some industry groups are urging.

Tuesday's invitation-only audience at the Oak Island Resort was told the province has not come to a conclusion on how that might work.

"For a processor to invest in a value-added product, it's millions of dollars and they've got to be confident that the next day, all over the province, another 25 processors aren't doing exactly the same thing," Colwell said.

"And then nobody makes any money, we don't really grow the industry. So there has to be a formula so they know their investments are well done."

Colwell said the temporary freeze will have no impact on existing operators. For example, existing operators can still activate dormant licences.

"For them it's business as usual," Colwell said.

Nova Scotia regulates shore side

Harvesting is regulated by the federal government, but once the catch is landed, it becomes the responsibility of the province, which issues licences and permits covering purchase, transport, storage and processing of seafood.

A moratorium has existed on new groundfish plants since the 1990s.

The Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, representing fish plants, called on the province last year to stop issuing new buyer and processing licences.

The organization argues there is overcapacity, especially in the lobster side.