Nova Scotia

Fishermen haul up, dump Mi'kmaw lobster traps to protest moderate livelihood fishery

Commercial fishermen dumped about 100 lobster traps outside a federal office in southwestern Nova Scotia on Monday, after others protested outside the home of someone alleged to have purchased lobster harvested by Mi'kmaw fishermen.

Protest also forms at home of someone alleged to have bought lobster harvested with Mi'kmaw traps

Commercial fishermen dumped about 100 Mi'kmaw traps at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans office in Meteghan, N.S., on Monday afternoon, which they say violate federal regulations. (Taryn Grant/CBC)

Commercial fishermen dumped about 100 lobster traps outside a federal office in southwestern Nova Scotia on Monday, after others protested outside the home of someone alleged to have purchased lobster, harvested with those traps, from Mi'kmaw fishermen.

The fishermen say the Mi'kmaw traps violate federal regulations. They were taken in a convoy of trucks to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans office in Meteghan, N.S., after being hauled out of the water over several days, according to Luc LeBlanc of the Maritime Fishermen's Union.

The Sipekne'katik First Nation launched its own self-regulated fishery on Sept. 17, the anniversary of the 1999 Marshall decision from the Supreme Court of Canada which recognized the First Nations right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing.

Decades later, there has been no agreement on how to regulate a moderate livelihood fishery in Nova Scotia, and now some Mi'kmaw leaders are taking the matter into their own hands.

The Sipekne'katik First Nation has issued seven licences, each allowing the setting of 50 traps. They say their impact is tiny in comparison with the established commercial fishery in the area, which is made up of more than a thousand licenses. 

"We're just trying to define a moderate livelihood so our people can get out of poverty and the commercial fishermen seem to be taking it personal and interfering with our right to fish," Sipekne'katik Chief Mike Sack told CBC's Information Morning when the fishery launched.

Protest at alleged buyer's home

Earlier, a large crowd of protesters gathered in front of an alleged buyer's home in the nearby community of Comeauville.

"Our strategy today is to demonstrate to the Canadian people that our fight here is not with Indigenous people and Indigenous fishers," said Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association.

Sproul said his group's fight was with the federal government and the people from within our own community who are facilitating the buying of Mi'kmaw fishery products.

Many commercial lobster fishermen say they worry the new Sipekne'katik fishery is outside of the mandated season and will hurt lobster stocks. However some fisheries experts say the small scale of the Mi'kmaw fishery means it is not a threat to conservation efforts.

Sipekne'katik Chief Michael Sack said in a statement Monday that he is focusing his efforts this week on meeting with law enforcement and federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan.

Sack said over the weekend there were reports that Mi'kmaw lobster trap lines were being cut. On Monday, he called for charges to be laid, and said cutting traps was "shameful and un-Canadian" and done "falsely in the name of conservation."

"This is a David and Goliath situation. We have seven boats, each with a potential of 50 traps which we are monitoring and will be recording and reporting on," Sack said in the release.

CBC News reached out to the minister for comment on Monday morning but has not yet received a response.

Earlier, fishermen protested in front of the home of someone who allegedly purchased Mi'kmaw-harvested lobster, in Comeauville, N.S. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

'We must have dialogue'

Sproul said the fishermen who hauled in traps on Sunday did so "under the watchful eye" of RCMP, the coast guard and DFO helicopters and vessels.

"And they took no enforcement action against us. And the reason is because our actions were within the law," he said.

A CBC reporter saw RCMP personnel in the area but could not confirm the presence of the coast guard or DFO.

But Sproul said the fishermen are eager to de-escalate the situation.

"What you can expect to see from us is a continued outreach to the Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia. We must have dialogue."

The wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., on Monday. Sipekne'katik officials say the fishery was launched after the band was unable to find common ground with the federal government about how to regulate a moderate livelihood fishery. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs said they met with Jordan and Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, on Monday morning.

The assembly said in a statement they have called on the ministers "to publicly speak out against the racism and violence directed towards Mi'kmaq community members."

They are also calling for more enforcement, the return of the seized traps and for the ministers to make clear to the public that "moderate livelihood is not an illegal fishery."

"Non-Indigenous fishers and citizens are putting the safety of our people at risk," Chief Terrance Paul of the assembly said in the release.

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

Jordan and Sack say they have asked their senior staff to begin discussions on management of the Sipekne'katik fishery.

Sack said Monday the fleet managed to salvage some of the traps that were abandoned when the lines were cut, but he is calling for donations of traps to replace the gear.

Sack also said an "operations post" will be established this week and that safety measures will be put in place to ensure that supporters, vessels and equipment are safe as high winds from Hurricane Teddy are expected on Tuesday.

With files from Taryn Grant