Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaw lobster fishing boats cut loose from wharf in Nova Scotia

Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne'katik First Nation says the nine boats were ready to take part in the band's food, social and ceremonial lobster fishery.

Chief Mike Sack of Sipekne'katik said the incident will delay the band's fishery for a week

Boats are seen tied up at a wharf
Sipekne'katik First Nation fishing boats tied up at the Saulnierville wharf last fall. The band says 9 lobster boats were cut loose from the wharf in Weymouth North, N.S., on Aug. 5. (Robert Short/CBC)

A First Nation in Nova Scotia says nine of its lobster fishing boats were purposely cut loose from a wharf on Thursday.

Mike Sack, the chief of the Sipekne'katik First Nation, issued a statement saying the boats were cast adrift from their berths in Weymouth North, N.S., with the "intent to cause damage and intimidate the community."

Sack said the boats were ready to take part in the band's food, social and ceremonial (FSC) lobster fishery, which is regulated by federal rules but is not limited to a particular season.

The band attracted national attention last fall when it started a separate, self-regulated commercial lobster fishery on St. Marys Bay, three months before the federally regulated season was scheduled to open.

The move to create a so-called moderate livelihood fishery was met by violent protests among some non-Indigenous fishers and their supporters, which resulted in scores of arrests.

At the time, Sack said First Nations in the Maritimes and Quebec never gave up the right to fish, gather and hunt when and where they want, as spelled out in treaties signed with the Crown in the 1700s. 

As well, he noted that the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed those treaty rights in a landmark ruling in 1999, known as the Marshall decision — but the court also said Ottawa retained the right to regulate the fisheries for conservation purposes. 

In a separate decision by the same court, known as Sparrow, First Nations are allowed to fish outside the regular commercial season to feed their communities or to supply ceremonial gatherings, but they are barred from selling those catches.   

Disputes in Nova Scotia over the food, social and ceremonial fishery surfaced in 2017 when non-Indigenous fishermen started a series of peaceful protests to draw attention to their claims that a small faction of Indigenous fishers were selling their FSC catches.

On Thursday, Sack said what happened at the Weymouth wharf will delay the FSC fishery for one week. 

"This is unfortunately what we have to deal with, harassment and property damage with no recourse or substantive protection to safeguard our people," he said in a statement.

On Friday, RCMP said officers received a complaint just before 8 a.m. Thursday that eight boats had been cut from their moorings, and when they arrived, they found that 10 had been cut. Officers also found that a lobster crate with about $800 worth of lobster had been stolen from one of the boats.

A criminal investigation is underway, police said.

After the story was published, Fisheries and Oceans Canada provided a statement that said the department strongly condemned the vandalism.

"The government of Canada is firmly committed to advancing reconciliation, implementing rights-based fisheries, and to ensuring that every person feels safe on the wharf and on the water," reads the statement. 

"Threatening and criminal activity will not be tolerated."

with files from CBC News