New Brunswick

Protesters from Eel Ground First Nation demand share of snow crab fishery

About 25 Members of Natoaganeg First Nation gathered outside the Department of Fisheries and Ocean on Monday to protest the band's lack of access to the lucrative Gulf of St Lawrence crab fishery.

Chief George Ginnish says community's well-being hurt by DFO's denial of right to fish

Natoageneg First Nation Chief George Ginnish, with protesters outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans building in Moncton on Monday. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

About 25 Members of Natoaganeg First Nation gathered outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on Monday to protest the band's lack of access to the lucrative snow crab fishery.

Chief George Ginnish said the government has denied his band its treaty rights, and for 20 years he's been asking to have them reinstated. 

"The accommodation that the federal government has made available is not providing a moderate livelihood for our people," he said.

"We look at where we are now in terms of poverty … things are as they were 20 years ago."

Ginnish said that with a federal election approaching, now is the time to bring attention to the issue.

"The status quo seems to be taking priority over rights, and that's not acceptable. We're not accepting it anymore." 

In May, the band council agreed fishermen from the community, also known as Eel Ground First Nation, could begin fishing crab without an agreement with the Fisheries Department.

Dozens of traps were seized.

Tyler Patles, fifth from left, a band councillor in Natoageneg, or Eel Ground First Nation, says 76 traps were seized by DFO during the Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab season. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Then, according to band councillor Tyler Patles, "DFO asked us to halt fishing while negotiations were ongoing."

Patles said the band entered into talks with department about Natoaganeg First Nation, on the Miramichi River, gaining access to crab quotas. The department made an offer, but it wasn't acceptable, he said.

"We went back out and put another 20 pods and 20 more traps, and those were seized as well."

In total, the department seized 76 traps. By that time the season was nearly over, and processors and buyers were not buying crab from Natoaganeg fishermen, Patles said.

The department said it would be "illegal to purchase, sell or possess any fish caught in contravention" of the Fisheries Act, meaning processors could risk losing their licence.

A spokesperson said Fisheries and Oceans could not comment at this time on the removal of traps.

"DFO has been engaging in good faith with Eel Ground First Nation officials in an attempt to come to an agreement on access to the snow crab fishery and we remain we remain open to continued dialogue," said Barre Campbell in an email.

Sees ripple effect for First Nation

Patles said access to the crab fishery is important to the band, but the economic spinoffs are at the heart of the matter.

"The benefits to education, our food insecurity, our poverty, jobs, the economy — it's not snow crab we're fighting for, it's everything else that comes along with it."

About 25 protesters met outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on Monday to demand a share of the snow crab quota. 1:03

Ginnish agreed, saying the well-being of the people of Natoaganeg is at stake.

"There's 40 per cent … food insecurity in our communities. That has to be addressed in order for us to address that we need to rebuild our economy."

Would be considered a crisis in other communities is accepted in First Nations communities, Ginnish said.

"In our community, and we have over 1,000 people, six lobster licences are not enough to build an economy." 

When it's not fishing season, the community suffers 80 per cent unemployment, and people want to work, he said. 

"You know, we have crab fishers that fish for other communities," Ginnish said. "They want to fish for their community.

"They want to be able to say 'Yeah, I'm earning a livelihood working for Eel Ground." 

Could mean $50,000 a year

Ginnish said he feels a moderate living would mean each household with a crab fishing licence would earn $50,000 a year, after tax.

Eel Ground First Nation in northeastern New Brunswick is calling on the federal government to honour treaty rights and allow access to the snow crab fishery. (Submitted by FFAW)

Natoaganeg is one of only three First Nations who fish commercially in the gulf region who have been excluded from a commercial snow crab allocation.

The other two, Tobique and Madawaska, have filed a lawsuit to gain access to the fishery.

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