A lobster rears its claws after being caught off Spruce Head, Maine, Aug. 31, 2021 Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Fishing regulators will gather in Virginia next week to talk about the potential of raising the minimum size lobsters need to be in order to be harvested by New England fishermen.

The Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission’s lobster management board is meeting on Tuesday to discuss the implications of a proposal that would install new minimum size limits and other regulations for the crustaceans, either gradually over time or triggered by lobster populations dipping below a certain level.

The proposal was drafted to protect the lobster population as surveys show indications of potential future decline. The idea has rankled many Maine lobstermen, who claim the Pine Tree State often bears the hardest brunt of any new regulations, despite having some of the strictest rules in place already.

Maine lobstermen currently have the lowest maximum size limits in New England. They can only keep a lobster if the distance between its eyes and the start of the tail is at least 3 ¼ inches but no longer than 5 inches. This is done to protect future populations and the most productive breeders.

Other areas of New England have different size limits and could undergo area specific changes under the proposal.

For Maine, one option being considered by regulators is increasing the minimum size by 1/16 of an inch if the abundance of lobster drops by 17 percent, and then again at 32 percent. Another would raise the minimum size gradually between 2023 and 2025.

Analysis done by the commission projected that raising the legal size minimum could increase the number of lobsters that reached maturity, allowing for more resilient populations.

Earlier this year, state fishery officials went to all of Maine’s regional lobster councils to alert them of the proposal. Maine Department of Marine Resources lead lobster scientist Kathleen Reardon, who serves on an Atlantic fisheries’ commission subcommittee, said at a March meeting with lobstermen in Stonington that a fisherman’s catch may not change all that much if the minimum limit was raised.

It could benefit them because more lobsters could have a chance to reproduce and they could also end up weighing more.

“[Raising the] minimum size means you’re delaying harvest. You’re still going to catch those lobsters later,” Reardon said.

That caused some lobstermen to protest that the prized catch might make its way to other areas where they would be within the legal size limit, a scenario that Reardon doubted would unfold that rapidly.

“I don’t think they are going to move that fast,” she said.

Many fishermen at the Stonington meeting would have rather seen minimum sizes around New England be raised to Maine’s standards.

“I think most people were in favor of folks outside of [Maine’s fishing areas] coming to our gauge,” said Virginia Olsen, a leader in the Maine Lobstering Union who fishes out of Stonington.

While the commission is considering changes in other states as well, the proposal says that making changes in Maine — the epicenter of the American lobster fishery — would do more to protect lobster populations than changes in other parts of New England.

The commission’s lobster board meeting is scheduled for 10:45 a.m Tuesday, both in-person and virtually.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Maine has the highest minimum size limits on harvestable lobsters.