05/28/2013 05:50 EDT | Updated 07/28/2013 05:12 EDT

Senate committee recommends changes to lobster industry

OTTAWA - The lobster industry in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, beset by plunging prices amid a glut of product, needs to continue the process of retiring fishing licences if the business is to remain viable, a Senate committee recommends in a report released Tuesday.

The committee concluded that Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Atlantic provinces and Quebec should consider extending the Atlantic Lobster Sustainability Measures program, which will see some 600 licences retired and over 200,000 traps removed from the water by March 2014.

"The committee believes that these initiatives are going in the right direction, but these efforts must be sustained," the report says. "The lobster fishery must stay on course and continue to make needed changes to ensure stability and sustainability in the future."

The committee says the industry has been facing big challenges since 2008 as landings have risen sharply.

Continuing the rationalization process will address over-capacity in the system, limit the fishing effort and ensure a decent income for harvesters, the report says.

As well, the committee is calling for more scientific research to determine how many lobster are out there.

The report's other recommendations also take a largely stay-the-course approach.

Among other things, the committee says the federal Fisheries Department should work on "increasing the familiarity" of fishermen with new rules regarding online fishing licences and new rules for gear tags — changes the fishermen have complained about.

The committee also says it recognizes that the transition of the Lobster Council of Canada from a mainly publicly funded enterprise into a private operation has been made difficult by the industry's economic challenges. As a result, the committee says the federal government and the five provinces should further "undertake to support" the organization.

And to address tensions in Lobster Fishing Area 25 — an area in the western part of the Northumberland Strait — the committee is recommending more talks between the Fisheries Department and fishermen in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Fishermen in the three provinces can't agree on the timing for the fishing season. As well, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are at odds over the minimum size for lobsters.

The committee says the lobster fishery is the most lucrative fishery in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec, with landings valued at $620 million and exports generating over $1 billion.