Nova Scotia

Protest over Indigenous lobster fishery turns confrontational at N.S. wharf

Hundreds of commercial fishermen briefly blocked access to a wharf Tuesday morning in southwestern Nova Scotia being used by First Nations fishermen harvesting lobster.

Mi'kmaw communal food, social and ceremonial harvest underway in St. Marys Bay

Crowds of commercial fishermen at the Saulnierville wharf where they temporarily blocked access. (CBC)

A peaceful protest by commercial fishermen turned confrontational Tuesday morning when they arrived at a wharf in Weymouth, N.S., used by First Nations fishermen.

There was yelling and cursing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishermen, but there were no injuries.

The commercial fishermen are protesting what they claim is an illegal lobster fishery in St. Marys Bay in southwestern Nova Scotia.

They say a communal First Nations lobster fishery — where the sale of the catch is prohibited — is being used as a cloak for a large-scale commercial fishery.

The Mi'kmaq reject that claim, arguing their right to fish for a moderate livelihood was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999.

Earlier, hundreds of commercial fishermen briefly blocked access to a wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., used by First Nations fishermen to harvest lobster.

Stacked lobster pots blocked access to the Saulnierville wharf early Tuesday morning. (CBC)

Both Weymouth and Saulnierville are ports being used by Nova Scotia First Nations harvesting lobster this summer in St. Marys Bay. Indigenous fishermen were not present at Saulnierville during the protest.

"This is a pretty benign protest," organizer Bernie Berry, of the Coldwater Lobster Association, said of the protest in Saulnierville. "We just want DFO to do what they have been doing, enforce some of the rules. There should be the same rules for everyone."

The fishermen want the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to enforce regulations that prohibit a commercial lobster fishery when the season is closed.

Robert Syliboy is from Sipekne’katik First Nation. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

Mi'kmaw fishermen say their right to fish for a moderate livelihood was upheld two decades ago by the Supreme Court of Canada. The court also said a moderate livelihood fishery was subject to government regulation, and so far there has been no agreement on the rules.

"We're 21 years, still waiting," said Robert Syliboy, an Indigenous fisherman from Sipekne'katik First Nation.

"They deemed that we can fish for a livelihood. They may have put some wording in it that they want to have control. We don't agree, we govern our own people."

The Marshall decision dealt with the treaties of 1760-61. Syliboy said there is an earlier treaty from 1752 at his band office in Sipekne'katik, and he can "proudly" walk in and read it over any time.

"It states that I have the right to fish and harvest, any type of fish in Nova Scotia, to sell in Halifax for a livelihood ... It doesn't say that I have the right only to a moderate livelihood. I have the right to a livelihood, and that's that," he said.

Stacks of lobster pots at the Saulnierville, N.S., wharf with signs describing the grievances of commercial fishermen. (Paul Withers/CBC)

A First Nations communal food, social and ceremonial fishery is currently underway in St. Marys Bay. The licence conditions do not permit the sale of the catch, but non-Indigenous fishermen say lobster is being sold.

"Huge amounts of lobster are being removed from here," said Colin Sproul, with the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association.

In Saulnierville, protesters had stacked a wall of lobster pots at the entrance to the wharf shortly after 5 a.m., then decamped to continue their protest in Weymouth.

The protesting fishermen also unloaded lobster pots at the Meteghan office of DFO.

DFO says it is pulling and removing traps in St. Marys Bay without communal licences and investigating complaints of illegal fishing.

Frustration is mounting on both sides of the issue.

The Mi'kmaq are developing plans for their own moderate livelihood fishery, outside of existing DFO regulations.