Nova Scotia

Fisheries minister says rep to foster dialogue between Mi'kmaw, other fishermen coming soon

Canada's fisheries minister says she's working to find a special representative to "help foster the dialogue" between Mi'kmaw and commercial fishers after opposition to Sipekne'katik's rights-based lobster fishery turned violent in southwest Nova Scotia. 

Special representative could begin work in coming days, says Bernadette Jordan

Sipekne'katik First Nation fishing boats are seen from the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., on Oct. 20, 2020. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Canada's fisheries minister says she's working to find a special representative to "help foster the dialogue" between Mi'kmaw and commercial fishers after opposition to Sipekne'katik's rights-based lobster fishery turned violent last week.

Bernadette Jordan, the MP for South Shore–St. Margarets, said Tuesday that she's still formalizing who that person will be, but that they could begin discussions with both sides in a matter of days, not weeks.

"These are people who have fished side-by-side for generations and what is happening has torn those relationships apart and we need to make sure that we get to a place where people are listening to each other," Jordan told CBC's Information Morning.

While a Supreme Court decision in 1999 affirmed the right of the Mi'kmaq to fish for a "moderate livelihood," the federal government has never defined what that means. 

The minister said she's had "very good, positive conversations" with members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation about defining a moderate livelihood, but added there "is no simple solution" to the decades-long question. 

"We have made incremental progress over the years, but right now we need to make sure that this is implemented for the long term so that everybody has clarity on what we're doing as we go forward," Jordan said. 

Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said negotiations with members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation have been very positive. (CBC)

Jordan added that right now her conversations with both commercial and Mi'kmaw representatives are taking place over the phone, from her home.

"This has been a challenge for me that there has been, you know, concerns around my ability to move freely," she said.

Sipekne'katik's self-regulated lobster fishery, which launched last month 21 years after the landmark Marshall decision, has faced tense and sometimes violent opposition by non-Indigenous commercial fishers. Commercial fishers say they oppose the Sipekne'katik's fishery because it operates outside of the federally mandated season and they worry it will hurt lobster stocks in St Marys Bay. 

Last week, several hundred commercial fishers and their supporters targeted and vandalized two facilities where Mi'kmaw fishers store their catch. One of those facilities was later burned to the ground in what police said was a suspicious fire.

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Mike Sack, chief of Sipekne'katik First Nation, told reporters Tuesday he's pleased to see an increased police presence in the area. He said talks with the federal government have been positive in recent days. 

"We're hoping that we progress a lot more before the end of the week," he said. "We're kind of pushing our timeline very hard and we're hoping in the next couple of weeks we have something on paper and it's out there for the world to see."

Sack said he planned to meet with fishers Tuesday evening and has good news for them that he'll share more widely later this week.

During an emergency debate Monday night, MP Chris d'Entremont, who represents the riding in southwest Nova Scotia, said it's time commercial harvesters join the discussion.

Mike Sack, chief of the Sipekne'katik First Nation, spoke with reporters at the wharf in Saulnierville on Tuesday. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

"I don't believe that they should be at the table itself, but there are many examples of where Canada has used experts — which I believe fishermen are experts in their field — that they should be somehow involved in what these negotiations actually are," d'Entremont told CBC's Mainstreet.

It's clear the negotiations that have happened in the 21 years since the Marshall decision haven't worked, he said.

"The problem that we've run into over the last 21 years, is that some of the groups, one side or the other side, only have half the information to try and make any decision," he said. 

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"I think we need to have everyone together so that we have a full picture of what's going on so that we can actually solve this once and for all."

Sack said while he's open to speaking with members of the commercial lobster industry, they don't have a place in nation-to-nation talks between his band and the federal government.

"Hundred per cent they don't have a spot at the table with us. They never will," Sack said. 

"We'll talk to them in the future about any open dialogue about our fisheries, but they got representation there with minister Jordan and they've got to respect that and go through her."

'I think that's more semantics'

Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association, said he doesn't believe appointing a special representative will solve anything, but added that he'll never pass up a chance for dialogue.

"I think that's more semantics from a government that's ignoring the problem," he told CBC's Information Morning on Wednesday. "What we have asked for is a seat at a table in sustainability discussions with the minister and with Indigenous fishery leaders."

While Sproul agrees with Sack that industry representatives shouldn't be part of nation-to-nation discussions, he said commercial fishermen need to be involved when the conversation "ventures into talks about the sustainability of our coastal communities and our resource."

At the debate on Monday, several Liberal and NDP MPs weighed in on the conservation issue, saying the small-scale fishery poses no risk to the health of the species. 

Jordan said the department of biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax has echoed that sentiment.

"So it's not just DFO that's saying that, that's peer-reviewed science," she said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning, CBC's Mainstreet and Kayla Hounsell