New Brunswick

Carolyn Bennett says government is working to improve snow crab fishery for Indigenous people

Canada’s Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs says the federal government will continue to meet with First Nations to improve access over the snow crab fishery.

First Nations have been fighting for rights to fish snow crab for almost 25 years

Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, says the federal government is working to improve access to snow crab fishing for First Nations communities.   (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett says she knows two New Brunswick First Nations are unhappy about lack of access to the snow crab fishery but she hopes the issue can be resolved out of court.

Bennett said she's met with the Madawaska and Neqotkuk First Nations and plans to speak with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to learn "what is going on."

She also plans to continue working with the two Wolastoqey communities, who "just want to be heard and fish."

Earlier this month, Madawaska and Neqotkuk, also known as Tobique, filed a lawsuit against the Canadian government over access to the lucrative commercial snow crab fishery. 

The two First Nations are seeking permanent access to the fishery and damages for lost revenues dating back to 1995, when they began requesting a commercial allocation in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. 

"We don't want to be in court," Bennett said in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton. "Part of my job is to get out of court."

Two Wolastoqey communities were granted a temporary allocation for snow crab in 2017 because of a quota increase that year but they haven't had access since then. (Submitted by FFAW)

The only year the two bands got an allocation in the gulf snow crab fishery was 2017, when the quota for the fishery was higher than average. The quota was raised again this year, but the two bands did not get an allocation.

Last week, about 25 Members of Natoaganeg First Nation, also known as Eel Ground First Nation, gathered outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to protest the band's lack of access to the lucrative fishery.

The right to earn a living 

Bennett, who is attending the First Nations' 40th annual general assembly this week, said the federal government is working with First Nations to honour the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Donald Marshall Jr. That decision reaffirmed First Nations have the right to earn a "moderate livelihood" from fishing and hunting.

"[We want] to be able to really see that a livelihood is possible as marine people, to be able to do what their ancestors … always did," Bennett said.

Snow crab is the country's second-most valuable fish export, according to Fisheries and Oceans. Almost all of the snow crab caught off New Brunswick is sold in U.S. or overseas markets. 

Broken promises

The federal government has an annual duty to consult with First Nations on fishing allocations, but the Neqotkuk and Madawaska First Nations said they have not been consulted in eight years.  

"After 152 years of broken promises and words, I think that we really are trying to really make the significant change," she said. "This is the new norm in Canada."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton, Logan Perley