Nova Scotia cracks down on lobster operators to protect industry's 'integrity'
Suspensions issued at 2 southwestern lobster pounds
Nova Scotia is cracking down on two large lobster pound operators following separate court convictions — efforts it says will protect the integrity of the province's billion-dollar lobster business.
In August 2018, Fisher Direct in Shag Harbour, N.S., was caught with lobster harvested under an Indigenous licence, which bars selling the catch.
The pound — which has annual sales upwards of $20 million — had received a shipment of 1,400 kilograms of lobsters the day before federal fisheries officers descended on the facility.
Inside the 31 crates, officers found 48 lobsters tagged for Indigenous food, social or ceremonial purposes that the department had previously microchipped.
In March 2022, owner Tyler Nickerson — not the company — pleaded guilty to violating the federal Fisheries Act.
He was fined $15,000 and ordered to pay a further $5,000 into a federal environmental fund.
As a result of the conviction, provincial Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Steve Craig amended Fisher Direct's licences in late November, to bar Nickerson's involvement in the operation for two years.
Claims sanction is excessive
Nickerson appealed, arguing the punishment is excessive for a single conviction from an incident that occurred more than four years ago.
His lawyers said the suspension does not give enough weight to an unblemished track record before or after conviction, the significance of the court fine, the unreasonableness in timing and two-year penalty.
Nickerson's suspension was set to begin at the start of the winter lobster fishery in southwest Nova Scotia in late 2022.
In an affidavit, Nickerson said the business employs 55 people and spends a million dollars annually on local goods and services.
"I am concerned that Fisher Direct handling things without me at the helm will be chaotic and potentially lead to the demise of the business," he said.
Nickerson's lawyers successfully argued for a temporary halt on the suspension.
On Dec. 2, Justice Pierre Muise stayed the ministerial order until May. No date has been set to hear the appeal.
Not tough enough
Colin Sproul, president of the Unified Fisheries Conservation Alliance, which represents commercial fishermen in Nova Scotia, said he is "incredibly disappointed" with the suspension imposed on Nickerson.
"Nova Scotia fishermen have been left with little recourse to protect the sustainability of our fishery other than actions that can be taken here by the province to stop people who perpetuate this illegal fishery," Sproul said.
Sproul wanted the licence revoked, citing the case of a lobster pound outside of Digby, N.S., that was convicted in 2020 of illegally selling lobster harvested under a federal food, social and ceremonial licence.
"It's clearly bad for the fishery, bad for Indigenous people, bad for sustainability and bad for Nova Scotia," he said.
Atlantic ChiCan also facing suspension
Meanwhile, a larger operation in southwestern Nova Scotia is also facing at least one licence suspension.
In 2021, Atlantic ChiCan on Cape Sable Island was convicted for illegally shipping American lobsters to China, claiming they came from Canada.
In August 2022, the company was issued a two-week suspension on buying lobster starting March 1, 2023.
Atlantic ChiCan was subsequently convicted in October 2022 for holding undersized and egg-bearing lobsters at its plant in January 2019.
The company has overhauled its operation since then and fired managers in charge at the time.
John Crandall Nickerson, the chief operations manager of Atlantic ChiCan, said it now faces an additional 21-day suspension in December 2023, which it hopes to reduce before a departmental hearing.
"We are trying to get through the past and put it behind us," Crandall Nickerson said.
Bruce Nunn, spokesperson for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, said it's still reviewing Atlantic ChiCan's convictions from October 2022.
The province said it would not comment on Nickerson's appeal because it is before the courts.
"We have laws and regulations in this province for a reason, including ones that protect the integrity of the Nova Scotia seafood-value chain, and we will take action against licence holders who jeopardise that value chain," Nunn said in a statement.