Nova Scotia

DFO promises to enforce 'out of season' moderate livelihood fishery

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans warned two Nova Scotia First Nations this summer that unauthorized lobster fishing would result in enforcement. When the bands went fishing, enforcement ensued.

Balance between treaty rights, DFO conservation and sustainability measures a work in progress

Sipekne'katik First Nation fishing boats are tied up at Saulnierville wharf on Sept. 22, 2020. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans warned two Nova Scotia First Nations this summer that unauthorized lobster fishing would result in enforcement.

When the bands went fishing, enforcement ensued.

Fishery officers from DFO's conservation and protection branch carried out enforcement action involving two bands. They seized traps, released thousands of lobsters and made arrests in St. Marys Bay, where members of the Sipekne'katik band were fishing.

Traps were also seized from members of the Pictou Landing bands. But there were no arrests.

In the case of Sipekne'katik, DFO spokesperson Barre Campbell said officials wrote to the band on July 5 and Aug. 31 to invite Sipekne'katik fisheries managers to discuss the possibility of "working together towards a moderate livelihood fishing plan that implements their treaty rights while ensuring conservation and sustainability of stocks under transparent and predictable management."

"This correspondence also conveyed that any commercial fishing happening outside of licenced moderate livelihood fishing plan activity, or otherwise in contravention of the Fisheries Act and regulations, including seasonal regulation, would be unauthorised, and would be subject to enforcement action," Campbell said in an email response to CBC News questions.

Recent St. Marys Bay enforcement

On Aug. 31, fishery officers in Saulnierville arrested five people (they were later released) and seized and released 261 lobsters.

On Sept. 5, fishery officers seized 82 crates containing approximately 6,000 lobsters at the Saulnierville wharf and seized 132 lobster traps from St. Marys Bay for a variety of reasons, including improperly tagged traps and unauthorized tags, the department said.

In the Northumberland Strait, DFO also seized traps from members of the Pictou Landing band on Sept. 2 and Sept. 8, 2022. Like St. Marys Bay, the area is closed to commercial lobster fishing.

"The Chief was notified that enforcement action could be expected if fishing was conducted out of season," DFO said.

Earlier this year, Pictou Landing was one of several Nova Scotia bands that had reached an interim understanding with DFO to pursue a moderate livelihood lobster fishery with 900 traps during the spring commercial lobster fishery.

The arrangements allow the legal sale of the catch to provincially licensed lobster pounds because the harvest is sanctioned by DFO.

Boats haul Sipekne'katik treaty fishery traps in 2021. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Band members were back on the water earlier this month without DFO agreement.

In an email, Pictou Landing Chief Andrea Paul said DFO "only recognizes their authorised fisheries which is during the commercial season."

"We have an approved plan that is authorised by PLFN from September to July," Paul said in an email.

Sipekne'katik did not respond to a request for comment on DFO enforcement activity in St. Marys Bay.

Dispute continues

The ongoing dispute pits the treaty right of the Mi'kmaq — as recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada to earn a moderate living from the fishery — against the government's right to regulate it, which has also been recognized by the court.

The issue is before the courts in Nova Scotia with both the Sipekne'katik and Potlotek bands challenging federal authority to regulate moderate livelihood fishing.

In the meantime, as a temporary measure, DFO has entered into "interim understandings" with several bands that authorize moderate livelihood fishing within commercial lobster seasons.

In addition to Pictou Landing, DFO also has understandings with Potlotek, Bear River, Annapolis Valley, Acadia, We'koqma'q and Lennox Island, P.EI.



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.