The lobster fishery is managed by effort control, which involves limits to the number of traps and fishing days. A number of measures address conservation in the fishery. These include:
- minimum lobster carapace size of 82.5 mm (3.25 inches)
- a limited number of licensed fishing vessels (985) in the lobster fishing area
- seasonal openings and closures to limit catch and protect molts with soft shells
- a limit of 375 or 400 traps for each licensed fishing vessel depending on the time of year
- escape mechanisms that enable undersized lobsters to exit traps
- rules governing the size, design and type of trap
- biodegradable components that will dismantle traps if lost at sea and therefore prevent “ghost” fishing
- a rule requiring the release and marking of all female lobsters bearing eggs
Local fishermen pride themselves on harvesting cold-water lobsters with a hard shell. Proper handling is paramount for lobster quality and health. Once landed aboard, lobsters are graded and undersized catch and egg-bearing females returned to the ocean. Rubber bands are fastened around lobster claws for safety and quality. They are then placed in crates. At the dock, the lobsters are sold and usually taken to a local buying facility where they are held several days before being shipped live to market. Some lobsters are also processed, either by cooking or freezing raw.
In some cases, fishermen hold their lobsters in storage facilities called “cars.” These floating structures are moored along the seashore and have compartments that hold lobster crates. Tides flush the lobsters twice a day with fresh seawater. Fishermen typically hold lobster in hopes that the market prices will improve later in their fishing season.
Local buyers and exporters also keep live lobsters in a variety of storage facilities, including tidal pounds and tank houses. The best facilities try to mimic the natural hibernating conditions of lobster. They are individually separated into plastic tubes or trays, and placed in fresh, cold seawater to replicate their solitary existence on the seafloor. Proper facilities closely monitor oxygen levels, temperature and salinity of the seawater. Under good conditions, live lobsters can maintain their top quality for several months.
Lobster Fishing Area 34 in Southwest Nova Scotia covers 8,500 square miles (21,000 km2), an area the size of New Jersey. It has the largest catches of Canada’s 41 lobster fishing areas, accounting for 40 percent of the country’s catch and 23 percent of North American landings. The habitat consists of rocky and muddy bottom, swift currents and the world’s highest tides in the Bay of Fundy. The fishery takes place in the winter when the water is especially cold. Most fishing happens in shallow areas usually within 9 miles (15 kilometres) of shore. However, this fishing area is unique because in the 1980s it expanded offshore to deepwater basins and outer banks about 58 miles (90 kilometres) from shore.