Mi’kmaq open new fishery; white fishers respond with vandalism

Mi'kmaq lobster fishers with their traps on the wharf in Saulnierville, NS

THE MI’KMAQ WERE THERE TO FISH AND CELEBRATE. The non-Indigenous locals were there to stop them.

Mi’kmaq fishers dropped 50 lobster traps into the waters just off Saulnierville on the eastside of the lower Bay of Fundy September 17. Local non-Indigenous fishers soon cut the buoy lines and hauled up some the of the Mi’kmaq traps.

Gear vandalized; stolen

“One Mi’kmaw fishermen who went out to check his gear was swarmed by commercial fishing vessels that were cutting him off and hauling their gear, stealing their traps—preventing our people from fishing,” says Sipekne’Katik First Nation Chief Michael Sack.

Mi’kmaq fishers also report being shot at with rifles and flare guns.

Sack says, while having their gear hauled up by commercial fishermen slows their operation a bit, the Mi’kmaq are in it for the long haul—with no plans to stop fishing.

Law allows Mi’kmaw fishery

The locals say the Mi’kmaq are breaking the law and endangering the whole fishery. The Mi’kmaq say they are simply exercising their rights under the law.

The Sipekne’katik First Nation say the 1999 court rulings recognize their 260-year old treaty right to fish at any time—and without a licence.

The whole issue was supposed to have been settled 21 years ago with a Supreme Court of Canada decision that confirmed Indigenous rights to a “moderate livelihood” lobster fishery.

The Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia chose September 17, the 21st anniversay of that decision, to launch their own self-regulated lobster fishery off Saulnierville. It was a proud day for them. Local non-Indigneous lobstermen consider it an insult and threat.

The commercial lobster fishery has been exclusively non-Indigenous down through all the generations that there has been a commercial lobster fishery. White fishers have been aggressively demonstrating their determination to keep it that way ever since September 17.

Scare tactics won’t work

Colin Sproul, of the Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, said about 100 boats were removing the Mi’kmaw traps, and would take them to the wharf in Meteghan, N.S. They are maintaining a constant presence in St. Mary’s Bay.

Sproul said the fishermen were taking action on what they believe is an illegal out-of-season fishery because the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has refused to do so.

Alex McDonald, Mi’kmaw captain of French Lily, said that was a scare tactic, “You never know what they will do; they are unpredictable. They are trying to scare us, but it won’t work.”

The Sipekne’katik band estimates close to 300 people came from Mi’kmaw communities around the Atlantic region to offer their support, over the September 19-20 weekend.

Government inaction a problem

What’s playing out in the Bay of Fundy waters is complex, but the bottom line is that non-Indigenous fishermen are trying to stop the Mi’kmaq from exercising their treaty rights—and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans isn’t helping.

The problem is that the department has yet to define what exactly a “moderate livlihood” fishery is. The Sipekne’katik First Nation waited 21 years and then took it upon themselves to define it with their September 17 action.

The Sipekne’katik band has developed its own management plan to ensure sustainability. There are seven lobster licences, though at the current time only three are being fished. The Mi'kmaw fishery is the tiniest drop in a bucket considering the overall size of the southwest NS commercial lobster fishery.

The commercial lobster fishery in southwest NS is the largest lobster fishery in the province and the country. There are 1,662 lobster licences with boats employing around 5,000 fishers, with thousands more jobs onshore. The total landed value of the 2018-2019 season came in at around $498.2 million,

Just the beginning

The band plan also includes licences for non-Mi’kmaw lobster consumers that state their purchase is legal, as per the Peace and Friendship Treaties.

Sipekne’katik’s moderate livelihood fishery is the first of what could become multiple Mi’kmaw-regulated fisheries launched in the province. Potlotek First Nation is scheduled to launch their own on Oct. 1, according to the community’s chief Wilbert Marshall.

“We’re doing the same thing,” Wilbert Marshall. said. “We’ll follow a community plan, which we’ve been talking about for the last two or three months now ... 21 years is long enough.”

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