Nova Scotia

Tensions continue to run high between Mi'kmaw and commercial fishermen Sunday

Tensions are continuing to run high between Mi'kmaw and commercial fishermen following the launch of a Mi'kmaw-regulated fishery in Saulnierville, N.S. While the Sipekne'katik First Nation say they have a right to fish, other fishers have called the new fishery illegal.

Discussions between Sipekne'katik First Nation and federal fisheries minister ongoing

RCMP officers position themselves between Mi'kmaw and commercial fishers on the Saulnierville wharf on Sept. 20, 2020. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Tensions were still running high in Saulnierville, N.S., Sunday evening as commercial fishers continue to condemn the new self-regulated lobster fishery launched by Sipekne'katik First Nation earlier this week.

Dozens of commercial and Mik'maw fishers gathered at the wharf in Saulnierville on Sunday in what is the fourth day of the dispute.

In a release Sunday morning, Sipekne'katik Chief Michael Sack said he and federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan held a "positive meeting" late Saturday to discuss a path forward.

"The Minister was very concerned about the vandalism and acts of aggression that have taken place and expressed her support in taking all measures necessary to protect our people as we continue to exercise our constitutional right to fish for a moderate livelihood," Sack said.

Jordan and Sack have asked their senior staff to begin discussions "on the way forward together," and the Sipekne'katik moderate livelihood fishery management and implementation plan has been shared with the minister.

Chief Michael Sack of Sipekne'katik First Nation says he had a positive conversation with the fisheries minister on Saturday. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

In a statement to Radio-Canada late Sunday afternoon, a spokesperson for Jordan said discussions will continue with Sack and members of his council, as well as with Indigenous leaders and industry.

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"Our government will continue to work in full collaboration with First Nations communities to fully implement their treaty rights," she said.

The self-regulated lobster fishery launched on Thursday. It came 21 years after a landmark Supreme Court ruling in the case of Donald Marshall Jr., which recognized First Nations' rights to earn a moderate living from fishing.

Many commercial lobster fishermen are opposed to the new fishery because they consider it to be illegal. They are concerned that fishing outside the DFO-mandated season will hurt the lobster stocks.

On Sunday morning, dozens of commercial boats were seen approaching the Saulnierville wharf around 9 a.m. and remained floating not far out.

Commercial fishers remove Mi'kmaw gear

Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association, said in an interview Sunday morning that non-Indigenous fishermen have gathered to defend their way of life from "an ecological disaster and an onslaught of illegal fishing in St. Marys Bay."

Sproul said they feel let down by Jordan. They were hoping for a coast guard or DFO presence on the water but none had arrived Sunday morning.

So, he said that by noon Sunday, commercial fishermen would be forced to take "the minister's responsibility" and remove what they consider to be illegally-tagged gear from the area.

"We just are trying to do what's morally and ecologically right here," Sproul said.

He said their flotilla is a form of protest and a way to gain Jordan's attention, adding "we have no intention to intimidate anyone."

RCMP officers stand on the Saulnierville wharf in front of supporters of a Mi'kmaw fishery on Sept.20, 2020. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Although there was a face-off between both sides at the Saulnierville wharf Sunday afternoon where RCMP walked between the Mi'kmaq and non-Indigenous fishers, the commercial fishermen appeared to leave around 1 p.m.

Members of several fishermen's associations told CBC they were leaving to retrieve the lobster traps placed by the Mi'kmaw fishers.

Martin Mallet, executive director of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said Sunday afternoon that commercial fishers were only pulling the traps due to federal inaction.

"Fishermen are tired of this and they're taking things into their own hands," Mallet said.

While Jordan did speak with some local commercial fishers Sunday morning, Mallet said her response was not what they hoped for. They are calling for DFO to take concrete action now on the water and wharves.

Until that is done, Mallet said commercial fishermen will keep pulling the Sipekne'katik moderate livelihood traps from the water.

The Coalition of the Atlantic and Québec Fishing Organizations joined the Maritime Fishermen's Union in calling on DFO to publicly retrieve the out-of-season traps set by Mi'kmaw fishers, claiming that in some cases, the traps were illegally setup and illegally baited.

In a tweet Sunday, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he was "appalled, but unfortunately not surprised" to hear more reports of further violence against Mi'kmaw fishers.

He said intervention must happen to ensure the safety and security of the Mi'kmaq, and urged people to email Jordan and "tell her why it's important to respect Treaty rights."

The Sipekne'katik First Nation has so far distributed licences and lobster trap tags to seven Mi'kmaw fishers. 

In total there are 979 commercial inshore lobster licences in this fishing area, known as LFA 34 and one of the most lucrative in Canada.

Martin Mallet, executive director of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said Sunday afternoon that commercial fishers had pulled Mi'kmaw traps from the water due to federal inaction. (CBC)

A Facebook video stream from the crew of a Mi'kmaw boat Sunday showed dozens of commercial boats motoring around them as they watched over their trap lines.

In the release, Sack said he'd gotten reports about their fishing fleet's lines being cut overnight Saturday. The First Nation has said lines have been cut since they first launched the fishery Thursday.

"It is so disheartening to have had a progressive meeting with the Minister yesterday to reinforce that we are following our moderate livelihood fishery plan and to be repeatedly sabotaged by this criminal conduct," Sack said.

The First Nation is calling for donations of traps to replenish the gear that has been vandalized.

Sack said attempts to block their boats from fishing and "ongoing damage" caused to vessels and equipment is their biggest concern right now. 

No new complaints reported to RCMP

Sproul said their members have been subjected to assaults by rubber bullets, golf clubs and boat rammings.

On Sunday morning, a RCMP spokesperson said they did not receive any complaints or incidents from overnight in the Saulnierville area.

The Mounties said on Twitter Saturday that Meteghan RCMP has responded to several calls, including uttering threats, mischief, and related complaints which are all being investigated.

On Friday two people were arrested for assault at the nearby wharf in Weymouth, N.S. Both have since been released pending court.

The RCMP will be maintaining their presence in the area Sunday. They said they have officers on land, they have a boat in the water, and members are in the air. 

The warrior flag, an Indigenous symbol of resistance, flies from the Saulnierville wharf on Sept.20, 2020. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Blockade remains Sunday

Indigenous fishermen set up blockades at each side of the wharf in Saulnierville overnight on Friday which were still in place Sunday.

Sack has said the blockades, made of lobster traps and rope, went up in response to commercial fishermen trying to intimidate and start fights with Mi'kmaw fishermen and their supporters.

The chief has also said the fight isn't with the commercial fishermen but with the federal government and he's encouraging his community to recognize that.

In a statement on Saturday, a group representing commercial fishermen released a list of demands to Fisheries and Oceans Canada to "keep the fishery healthy."

The demands included an immediate stop to out-of-season commercial fishing, more funding for enforcement of regulations by the Government of Canada and for government and Indigenous leaders and fishing organizations to work together to manage the resource.

With files from Cassidy Chisholm, Taryn Grant, Olivier Lefebvre, and Héloise Rodriguez-Qizilbash