Nova Scotia

Federal government rejects lobster quota for commercial inshore fleet

The Trudeau government says it will not impose a quota on the Atlantic Canadian commercial inshore lobster fishery, rejecting a proposal floated by several Mi'kmaw leaders.

Mi'kmaw floating quotas for conservation, PM says government will defend Marshall rights

Several hundred fishermen protested Aug. 27, 2020, outside the constituency office of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan, demanding her department stop out-of-season commercial lobster harvesting and sales by First Nations in Nova Scotia. (Paul Withers/CBC)

The Trudeau government says it will not impose a quota on the Atlantic Canadian commercial inshore lobster fishery, rejecting a proposal floated by several Mi'kmaw leaders.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan issued a statement Friday after meeting with commercial fishermen the day before.

"As confirmed in that meeting, there is no plan to move to a quota system for the commercial lobster fishery and it is not being considered," Jordan said.

For decades, conservation in the billion-dollar commercial lobster fishery has been maintained by limiting the number of licence holders and traps. Stocks throughout Nova Scotia lobster fishing areas are healthy.

Some Mi'kmaq have suggested a quota as a response to commercial fishermen concerned about the impact of unregulated, out-of-season lobster fishing by the Sipekne'katik First Nation in St. Marys Bay.

Three Mikmaw parliamentarians have proposed the creation of an optional Atlantic First Nations fisheries authority to administer an Indigenous fishery.

Quota system

If First Nations did not agree to participate, a quota may be imposed in the area fished.

"We proposed a lot of different options and the last option is exploring the possibility of implementing a quota system," Jaime Batiste, a Nova Scotia Liberal MP, said Sept. 30.

"That may be something we need to look at."

Earlier this week, the Sipekne'katik First Nation called for fishery quotas for both the commercial lobster and moderate livelihood fisheries after its council agreed "on the need to impose quotas to account for any evidence of reductions in lobster landings for conservation purposes."

The Trudeau government says it will not impose a quota on the Atlantic Canadian commercial inshore lobster fishery. (CBC)

The First Nation proposed a joint conservation study Friday between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Mi'kmaw Conservation Group and academia.

Jane Deeks, press secretary to the fisheries minister, said the department is not commenting on that proposal.

Sipekne'katik and the Potlotek First Nation in Cape Breton have launched their own moderate livelihood lobster fisheries without DFO authorization or management.

The out-of-season fishery has angered the industry and led to confrontations in southwest Nova Scotia.

First Nation communities say they are exercising treaty rights recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1999 Marshall case.

That landmark decision affirmed the right of the Mi'kmaq to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing, but did not explain how that fishery would work. The high court later said the federal government could regulate that fishery and must justify any restrictions placed on it.

Ottawa has not been able to define what constitutes the "moderate livelihood" promised by the court.

In the meantime, it has spent over $500 million to integrate Maritime First Nations into the commercial fishery. Money was spent buying out commercial fishing licences and training.

Today, those communities hold more than 2,300 commercial fishing licences for a wide variety of species.

A member of the Sipekne'katik First Nation holds a drum as he sits on lobster traps in Saulnierville, N.S., on Sept. 20, 2020. A flotilla of non-Indigenous fishing boats moved into St. Marys Bay off western Nova Scotia to remove lobster traps set by fishermen from the Sipekne'katik First Nation. (Mark O'Neill/The Canadian Press)

In Nova Scotia, Mi'kmaq hold 684 licences, including 107 commercial lobster licences.

DFO is currently negotiating with the Sipekne'katik First Nation over its self-declared moderate livelihood fishery.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday his government will defend the rights enshrined in the Marshall decision.

"There's no question that 21 years is far too long to wait to see rights that have been recognized come into force," he said in Ottawa.

"This is a situation that is important to resolve peacefully."

'A logistical nightmare'

Inshore fishery groups do not want to see quotas in the lobster fishery. They say the system isn't broken, so don't fix it.

"Bringing in a quota system would be a logistical nightmare with dockside monitoring and third-party companies in every wharf where catch is landed. And is not necessary. The fishery is clearly sustainable as it is," said Martin Mallet, executive director of the Maritime Fishermen's Union.

One option is buying out current licence holders, he said.

"We are talking about a one-in and a one-out strategy. If First Nations want more access — 350 traps or 400 traps or whatever — you take that out and you redistribute it in whatever manner you want."


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.