02/14/2013 11:47 EST | Updated 04/16/2013 05:12 EDT

Lobster size dispute to be settled by federal minister

Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield will have to settle a dispute among Maritime fishermen about what size of lobster they should be able to catch in the Northumberland Strait next season.

Fishermen from the three provinces reached a stalemate on the issue on Wednesday.

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia fishermen want to see the minimum size they can legally trap increased to 77 millimetres over the next three seasons, from the current 72 millimetres, to improve conservation and net them a better price.

Meanwhile P.E.I. fishermen want to continue catching the smaller canners, saying any change could devastate the province's industry.

It's unclear when Ashfield will make a decision, said Alain Hébert, a manager at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who is responsible for trying to get the fishermen to reach an agreement.

But the department has already gone over budget in organizing an extra meeting to reach a consensus, Hébert said.

Now that the issue is in the minister's hands, some fishermen may not be happy with the decision, he said.

The area is question is the western side of the Northumberland Strait, known as Zone 25.

One option the minister has would be to create two new zones to divide New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

However, Carl Allen, who who fishes out of Bas-Cap-Pelé in southeastern New Brunswick, says that wouldn't be a good idea.

“We have a very mobile zone where I've fished on the island shore, there's island fishermen that have fished on our shore and there's a lot of intermingling, so where you establish that line?

“If you think this is indecisive decision-making, try to draw a line down the middle of LFA 25 and you'll see a whole other ballgame of nobody agrees," Allen said.

He said the money is in bigger lobsters.

“It would lead to increased landings because the small lobsters that you would throw back would have a chance to molt, shed and increase their size and weight so you would get it back in dividends in time," Allen said.

Lee Knox, the head of the Prince Edward Island fishermen who catch lobster in Zone 25, said he disagrees with that assessment.

He says the people he sells to will lose their markets for the small canners and his income will drop by about 30 per cent.

“We're saying 30 per cent from fishermen from what they're making today, until 2016," said Knox.

"Our gear will all be with the bank. And we'll be all out west.”