N.S. commercial fishermen stage peaceful protests over conservation concerns
Several hundred fishermen and supporters made their way through downtown Yarmouth Friday morning
There were peaceful protests Friday in Nova Scotia by commercial fishermen, following a symbolic gesture of peace the day before between some commercial fishermen and the First Nations band at the centre of a disputed lobster fishery.
Several hundred fishermen and supporters made their way through downtown Yarmouth on Friday morning to express concern over unregulated "moderate livelihood" fisheries being launched by First Nation bands.
The protest saw streets blocked around the local Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) office, according to a report by CJLS Radio.
In Antigonish, another 75 fishermen gathered outside the DFO office.
Gordon Beaton, the president of Local 4 of the Maritime Fishermen's Union (MFU), said fishermen are worried where the fishery is headed.
Two bands have started commercial fisheries
Two Nova Scotia bands have started small self-regulated commercial fisheries without DFO authorization or management. Other Nova Scotia bands are planning to launch their own.
"It's small at this point, but I mean, where does it end," said Beaton.
"You can't catch lobsters twice. So that burden obviously gets put on the inshore fisheries, whatever is taken."
Some MFU members were in Saulnierville on Thursday, where they presented a Mi'kmaw elder with a basket containing sweet grass, tobacco and sage during Treaty Day celebrations held by members of the Sipekne'katik band.
The wharf was the scene of ugly protests last month when the Sipekne'katik band became the first to launch its own moderate livelihood fishery at a time when the commercial season is closed.
The band says it is exercising a treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood recognized by courts 20 years ago
Not challenging treaty rights
"We don't argue the treaty," said Beaton. "We're not arguing the fishing rights that they have. They have a right to First Nations fishery, but we want the right to be executed in a way that's sustainable for everybody."
The dispute threatens to disturb the peaceful co-existence that has existed between commercial fishermen and First Nations, said Beaton.
"We've been fishing with these First Nations in our fishery, in the commercial fishery for 20 years with little or no problems," he said.
"We want them to enforce the rules that are there, to enforce those regulations of an in-season fishery, and we want to be part of the discussions."
First Nations hold 684 commercial fishing licences in N.S.
DFO and the Mi'kmaq have yet to work out the meaning of moderate livelihood.
But in the 20 years since the Supreme Court ruling, the government of Canada has spent half a billion dollars integrating bands into the commercial fishery, buying up licences and training Indigenous harvesters.
Maritime First Nations now hold over 2,000 commercial fishing licences, with 684 in Nova Scotia alone. Those licences generated $126 million in revenues to Indigenous communities in 2016. There are about 11,500 commercial fishing licences in total in the Maritimes.
Pictou Landing plans fishery
The Pictou Landing band, which fishes alongside fishermen represented by Beaton, now holds 136 commercial licences. That's up from nine at a time of the landmark "moderate livelihood ruling" in 1999.
On Friday, Chief Andrea Paul said the band is moving ahead with a moderate livelihood fishery.
"We are currently in the discussion stages and yes we will be launching a moderate livelihood plan," she said in an email.