Demands by fishermen, processors and even the provincial government in New Brunswick are threatening a way of life in Prince Edward Island.
They are seeking to have the legal minimum carapace size of lobsters increased from 71 to 77 millimeters over the course of three years.
Six millimeters might not seem like much, but it is really major. Such an increase would wipe out the niché market for canner lobsters that Prince Edward Island’s lobster industry has nurtured.
It would wipe it out in New Brunswick, too, but the canner market is worth much more to P.E.I. than it is to New Brunswick.
The measure is scheduled to go up a millimeter to 72 on both sides of the Northumberland Strait and all around P.E.I. this year, and that is as far as the Island boats want it to go.
Stocks are currently in good shape. Landings are strong. There is no argument on the Prince Edward Island side of the strait for a size increase.
It would be ridiculous for Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield to push the measure beyond the already agreed upon 72 millimeters this year, so Island boats should be safe in 2013.
They need to be worried about next year and the year after that, though. The pressure is on in New Brunswick for the measure to go up, and just saying ‘heck no, we won’t go,’ won’t be enough to stop it.
Prince Edward Island has until Feb. 6 to make its case for leaving the measure alone, and it will need to be a strong case.
And the case has to be Island-wide, not just from the district P.E.I. shares with New Brunswick.
Really, though, if P.E.I. doesn’t want to go up in size it shouldn’t have to, but the optics of having New Brunswick boats and Prince Edward Island boats fishing in the same water and having different size measures are not pretty.
This, however, is not a fight Prince Edward Island started. In a way, P.E.I. is not fighting at all; it is simply defending its surf. It is New Brunswick that’s pushing the envelope here and Minister Ashfield, even though he is from New Brunswick, has to recognize that.