Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaw First Nation releases catch numbers from lobster fishery

A First Nation in Nova Scotia that launched a moderate livelihood lobster fishery this year has released their catch numbers.

Sipekne’katik says their livelihood fishery has brought in 100,000 pounds of lobster

Sipekne’katik fishermen haul lobster traps on Thursday, Sept. 24. (Robert Short/CBC)

A First Nation in Nova Scotia that launched a moderate livelihood lobster fishery this year has released their catch numbers.

Sipekne'katik First Nation said Wednesday they have caught just under 100,000 pounds of lobster since the fishery launched Sept.17, according to their compliance officers. That's about 45 metric tonnes.

"The amount of lobster we took out so far is equivalent to one [commercial] licence," said Chief Mike Sack.

He said the suggestion there has been any over-fishing through the Mi'kmaw treaty fishery is not only inaccurate, but it is fuelling discussions that will lead to added marginalization and conflict against the Mi'kmaq.

The First Nation has so far issued seven lobster licences to band members, with 50 tags each. Sack said that makes a total of 350 tags.

In the 2018-19 fishing season, there were 965 boats licensed to fish LFA 34, with most permitting 375 to 400 traps per licence.

The fishery being held in St. Marys Bay in southwestern Nova Scotia has faced tense and sometimes violent conflict with non-Indigenous commercial fishermen, including the swarming of two lobster facilities storing Mi'kmaw catches. 

Three people are now facing charges related to incidents last month.

The band has alleged hundreds of traps belonging to its members have been stolen, damaged or destroyed by commercial fishermen.

Commercial fishermen have objected to the fishery on conservation grounds, since it is outside the regular lobster season. Last week an industry group said commercial seasons are closed to protect moulting and hungry lobsters, which are easier to catch in large numbers.

The history of the Mi'kmaw lobster fishery

1 year ago
Duration 9:40
To better understand what has changed - and what has not - since the 1999 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Mi'kmaw fisherman Donald Marshall Jr., CBC Indigenous reviewed two decades of coverage on Mi'kmaw fishing rights. 9:40

Some scientists have said the Sipekne'katik operation poses no threat to conservation and DFO maintains that lobster stocks in that area are healthy.

"There's no actual evidence that we're doing any damage to the fishery and if there was, we would not be fishing," Sack said.

"[Commercial fishers] take 990 times what we take. So if there's any concern about conservation, look at the industry — not at us. Conservation is our main concern."

The Sipekne'katik treaty fishery represents 0.005 per cent of the average annual commercial catch in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 34, the release said.

The small amount is "further compounded" by the withdrawal of the Sipekne'katik commercial fishery licences which had the potential to bring in up to 900,000 pounds of lobster this season.

The regular season starts Nov. 30, but Sack has said the community's nine licences will sit dormant for fear of "continued retaliation, violence, property damage and systemic economic racism."

The Sipekne'katik council also approved buyers for their moderate livelihood lobster catch on Tuesday.

The band said plans are underway to also sell a portion of the lobster as a fundraiser for the broader community. 

Sipekne'katik has said they plan to sue the province over the law that prevents the purchase of lobster harvested by moderate livelihood licences issued and regulated by individual bands.

Premier Stephen McNeil has said the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans must define moderate livelihood before the province can examine its own rules for fish buyers.

With files from Olivier Lefebvre