Blind-sided by a consultant's report, a delegation of Island lobster fisherman stormed out of a meeting in Moncton Wednesday with the future of the P.E.I. lobster industry on the line.
New Brunswick wants the smallest legal size of lobster to steadily increase over the next three years in the Northumberland Strait.
That will wipe out most of the P.E.I. industry, says Minister of Fisheries Ron MacKinley.
His staff was on the phone Wednesday, lining up a meeting next Friday, Feb. 1 with Keith Ashfield, federal fisheries minister who also happens to be an MP for New Brunswick.
"P.E.I. catches 80 percent of the canner lobsters that are caught and New Brunswick catches the other 20, so we have the most to lose," said MacKinley.
Of all the lobster caught on P.E.I., some 57 percent are the smaller canners and Island processors have found a way to market them, he said. Losing that fishery would be devastating, said MacKinley.
The New Brunswick crew at Wednesday's meeting argued that by hiking the minimum size, DFO would help all the fishermen in the region increase their landings because mature females would be left in the water to produce more eggs rather than ending up on a plate in Europe or China, says a report in the Times Transcript newspaper.
"Lobster catches are increasing," said MacKinley. "We don't need any more conservation."
It is not a scientific argument, he said. It's an aggressive business ploy to try and squeeze much of the Island out of the lobster business and thus drive up New Brunswick prices.
"They can fish all they want," said MacKinley. "There is no quota. They can throw their smaller lobsters back. Leave our canners alone."
“There’s no way that we’re prepared to go to 77 (millimeters). It’s not wise, or feasible, or financially profitable for P.E.I. to go there,” Mike McGeoghegan, president of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association, said in a phone interview with TC Media staff Wednesday as the delegation was en route back to P.E.I.
“We knew the meeting was coming, but we didn’t have a criteria, and we didn’t know they were going to have a consultant there. I’m not pleased with the way it went down,” McGeoghegan said.
“They came at us way too hard. We thought it was going to be a discussion. We were going to sit down, put some real good ideas on the table, look at the quality, look at the markets, but it wasn’t like that.”
He said the Island delegation walked out following the presentation and after a Feb. 6 date was set for a P.E.I. response.
The carapace size increases by one millimetre to 72 this year. That’s as far as P.E.I. fishermen want to go.
"Gail Shea is on side on this too, and that helps," said MacKinley.
Alternatives that have been raised in discussions include dividing the Northumberland Strait with a line to keep P.E.I. fisherman on one side, and New Brunswick on the other but that got shot down by New Brunswick, said MacKinley.