Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia plans to increase fine for buying out-of-season lobster to $1 million

Nova Scotia is planning to raise the fine for commercial buyers caught selling out of season lobster to $1 million.

Fisheries minister says higher penalty will be introduced as soon as possible

Lobster traps lined up on a jetty with a sunset shining through them.
Nova Scotia's fisheries minister says he's concerned by reports of "industrial-scale" fishing conducted outside of the federally regulated lobster season in St. Marys Bay, near Digby, N.S. (Francis MacDonald)

With tensions rising over unauthorized lobster fishing in southwestern Nova Scotia, the province's fisheries minister says he intends to increase the maximum fine to $1 million for commercial buyers who are caught selling out-of-season lobster.

Following a cabinet meeting Thursday, Steve Craig said he's making the move out of concern about reports of "industrial-scale" fishing conducted outside of the federally regulated season in St. Marys Bay, near Digby, N.S.

"I do not ignore complicated or challenging issues," Craig said, adding that he has been in talks with federal authorities and commercial fishermen about significantly increasing the fine.

The provincial government is responsible for regulating the buying, selling and processing of sea products, such as lobster, and the current maximum fine for businesses and individuals buying and selling out of season is $100,000.

Craig says he wants to send a message that he's committed to a zero-tolerance policy toward the out-of-season selling of all species.

Three live lobsters lie on a cement floor.
Fisheries officials say they seized 8,000 lobsters caught in southwestern Nova Scotia in New Brunswick last week. They were returned to the ocean. (File photo/Colleen Connors/CBC)

"I don't think it will be a deterrent, I think it will be a consequence that has some substance to it," he said. "I'm saying $100,000 is not enough and we need to be able to give the courts the ability to fine up to $1 million."

The minister said the increased maximum fine would be in addition to existing enforcement measures, which include revoking commercial licences and barring individuals convicted of fisheries offences from being involved with businesses who buy and sell sea products.

The minister wasn't specific about when the change will be made or whether it would come through legislation or regulation.

"As soon as we are able to," he told reporters.

Liberal leader reacts

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill, whose party issued a news release earlier in the day calling on the minister to increase the maximum fine to $1 million, welcomed Craig's announcement.

"This [unauthorized fishing] is an issue for the local economy, this is an issue for conservation of our lobsters and it's creating a situation that's very volatile," Churchill said.

St. Marys Bay was the scene of confrontation in September 2020 when the Sipekne'katik First Nation launched a self-regulated lobster fishery that operated outside the commercial season, asserting a treaty right to make a moderate living from fishing.

Heightened tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers resulted in confrontations on the water and riots at two lobster pounds, one of which was burned down by arson.

As of last week, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it had seized 464 traps for non-compliance with the Fisheries Act in two fishing areas in southwestern Nova Scotia known as lobster fishing area (LFA) 33 and 34. The department also said it arrested two people from Saulnierville, N.S., in Moncton, N.B., last Wednesday and seized more than 8,000 lobsters caught in southwestern Nova Scotia, which were returned to the ocean.

"We will continue to take action whenever unauthorized harvesting and other violations under the Fisheries Act are observed, while supporting the exercise of fishing rights," the department said in an email.