When Alex McDonald arrived at the Comeauville wharf in Digby County, N.S., on Monday afternoon to find his lobster boat missing, he said he was "stunned."
The part of the wharf where McDonald's boat — named Buck and Doe — had been moored was scorched and the seven thick ropes that kept it there burned off.
The vessel was later located burning in the middle of St. Marys Bay, RCMP said Tuesday. It sunk before it could be towed back to land. Police are calling the incident "suspicious."
"It's obvious they burnt it off because they couldn't untie it. Whoever did it, it was well-planned; they had to come there with torches to burn that rope off," said McDonald.
"There had to be more than one person and then they would have towed the boat out or they would have hotwired it.
"I never expected anything like this in my whole entire life. I have no enemies," said McDonald, who started fishing at the Comeauville wharf last fall.
Similar incident last week
McDonald said the RCMP told him Monday evening that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans had come across his burning boat in the middle of St. Marys Bay and saw it sink.
DFO confirmed it was made aware of a fire aboard a vessel in St. Marys Bay, and said the local fire marshal has been called in to determine the cause.
The incident comes in the wake of another suspicious lobster boat fire last week in nearby Weymouth. In that case, RCMP said an initial investigation determined someone put something in the engine hatch of the Amanda Pride 1, leading to the fire.
Police are trying to determine if the two incidents are connected.
"That's really part of the investigation to this point. We're really hoping that we get information from the public which will help us," said RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jennifer Clarke.
McDonald said while he has a commercial lobster fishing licence, he hadn't been out fishing in three weeks as he's been busy preparing for the start of the commercial fishing season on Nov. 27.
The last time he saw the boat was early Saturday morning.
'It happened because I'm Aboriginal'
McDonald said he believes his boat was targeted because he's Indigenous.
"The crazy thing about it is there's a non-Native boat right behind mine that's still there. They didn't target that boat. They targeted my boat," said McDonald, a council member of the Sipekne'katik band.
"It happened because I'm Aboriginal and it's at a wharf that nobody keeps an eye on."
Tensions have been high in the area, with DFO saying last month that there were "clear indications" of abuse in First Nations Lobster fisheries. Thousands of small, dead lobsters were found piled up in the woods near Weymouth around the same time.
McDonald said it's possible that's why his own boat was targeted, but police are not publicly stating their theories on either incident.
"I can't speak about the motivation of anyone who is responsible for these crimes," said Clarke.
'It's not just a boat'
McDonald said the loss of his boat represents a major blow to his livelihood.
"I'm fishing a commercial licence, a DFO licence every year. It is a loss. I fish for bait. I catch bait for my season," said McDonald. "This is not a boat that's fishing out there doing treaty fishing. This is a boat that fishes a commercial licence.
"I fish alongside of everybody else out in that water; 997 boats are in that water when I'm out there."
McDonald said he recently spent $7,300 to fix the boat's reduction gear and the GPS on the boat contained valuable information, like where to lay traps and routes on how to get from place to place.
"So many plots and so many holes. So many nice spots to put traps that every fisherman treasures. When you find a good hole, you want to be able to put your gear back there so you can get that lobster for the season," said McDonald.
"That's all gone. That valuable information is gone. That's hurtful. It's not just a boat; it's the information with the boat."