Lobster fishers in Canada must be licensed; the fishery is regulated by the federal government, with an eye to conservation of the stock. The fishing season, lobster size, trap design, and number of traps are all designated by the regulator. There are no new licenses being created to join the lobster fishery; new license holders will have to obtain them by purchasing from a licensed owner.
Lobsters are caught in traps or “pots” that are baited and dropped to the ocean floor. A long rope bearing a float or buoy marked with the owner’s identity is attached to each trap, permitting retrieval and identification from the surface (several traps can also be linked to each other, with just one attached to a surface float, reducing the number of float lines). Traps are weighted with stone or concrete, to keep them on the ocean floor and reduce movement. Each trap can hold several lobsters; they are checked each day throughout the fishing season, to be emptied and/or re-baited. Lobster traps are made of wire, twine, and wood; there are several different styles in current use. Often, fishers build and repair their own traps.
The lobster fishery of which St Ann’s Bay/North Shore is a part is Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 27. It encompasses the fishing grounds between the Bay of St Lawrence in the north of Cape Breton, and Gabarus on the south shore west of Louisbourg. In LFA 27, the fishery is open from mid-May to mid-July. Most of the fishing ground is within 20 kilometres of the shore.
Conservation measures include these regulations:
- A maximum of 275 traps per license may be deployed
- Escape vents (sized to allow small lobsters to escape the trap) and ghost panels must be used in all traps (larger openings occuring by biodegradation in a single season, to prevent lost traps from permanently trapping animals).
- Carapace (part of the shell covering the back of the head and body) size must be a minimum 81mm (3 and 3/16 nches).
- Female rock crab that enter the traps must not be retained.
Lobsters mate after the female has moulted (shed her shell). After her eggs are fertilized, it may take up to 15 months for the eggs to be extruded to the underside of her tail. She will carry the eggs for another 11 months before the larvae hatch.
Young lobsters drift around and settle out in the cobble and rocks on the sea floor. They will moult up to ten times during their first year or so. Juvenile lobsters remain amongst the protective cover of the rocks and kelp beds for up to two years, until they are better able to defend themselves.
Lobsters have been known to migrate significant distances; 5 to 20 kilometres is not unusual. They prefer rocky or hard sea-bottom with a variety of relief rock piles, wharves, reefs, rock ledges. Both male and female lobsters can be harvested. However, female lobsters carrying eggs, or showing signs of having carried eggs, must be returned without harm to the water. Lobster predators include larger lobsters, crabs, groundfish such as cod, halibut, and flat fishes, and seals.
In recent years, the lobster fishery in has annually produced a value of approximately $25 million.