Fishermen in Nova Scotia are reporting unusually high numbers of soft lobsters, which means a poorer quality of catch and less money for them.

Ashton Spinney says fishermen like him are landing more lobster this year, but the shells are not as hard.

"It's just something we've never seen before," Spinney, chairman of the LFA 34 management board, told CBC News.

Soft lobsters don't command top price. They are fragile and die quickly, and can't be exported to the lucrative European market.

"It's a concern because it makes it difficult to ship them and you have to take more precautions to keep them alive," Spinney said.

The fall lobster season has been open for a week. Already, the talk at the docks is how to keep thousands of kilograms of lobster alive long enough to get them to processing plants.

Spinney and others in the industry blame the water temperature. Where Spinney fishes, the water is 8 C, which is "unusually warm" for the season.

Warm water stresses the crustaceans, forcing them to grow quickly and moult more than normal.

Fishermen warned

The lobster science centre at the Atlantic Veterinary College warned that lobster caught in the area could be of lower quality this year.

The centre has been testing lobsters for shell hardness and other factors since 2004. It found seven of 10 sites had lower numbers of hard-shell lobsters than last year.

"As advised in the past, extra caution should be taken when deciding what product can be stored for later sale," the centre said in a report.

The quality of the catch has some people in the industry asking whether the season is starting too early.

Sterling Belliveau, the province's fisheries minister, said a committee has looked at various issues, such as splitting the lobster fishing season.

"I think the opportunities are there for the fishing industry to seriously consider some of these options," he said.

Lobster prediction