Nova Scotia

Commercial fishermen rally to press DFO on Mi'kmaw lobster fishery

More than a hundred people rallied in support of Nova Scotia's commercial fishery Monday, calling on the federal government to listen to them as it tries to resolve the dispute over the Mi'kmaw moderate livelihood fishery.

More than 100 people gather at DFO office to demand federal government resolve dispute

Sterling Belliveau said the federal government is to blame for the frustrations many commercial fishermen are experiencing. (CBC)

More than a hundred people rallied in support of Nova Scotia's commercial fishery Monday, calling on the federal government to listen to them as it tries to resolve the dispute over the Mi'kmaw moderate livelihood fishery.

Sterling Belliveau, a former politician in southwestern Nova Scotia and once the provincial fisheries minister, has called for a one-year "pause" on the Mi'kmaw fishery to let the negotiations finish. He put the blame squarely on Bernadette Jordan, the MP for South Shore—St. Margarets and minister for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"The fishing industry, the commercial side of it, has not been heard, and you can understand the frustration and the chaos that minister Jordan and her policy direction in the last month has led to this confusion," Belliveau said at the rally outside the DFO office in Barrington Passage, N.S.

He said whatever fishing is allowed under the Marshall decision must happen during the commercial fishing season.

"You simply can't have a structure where you have a two-tiered system allowing segregation to create government policies," he said.

Some of the protesters at Monday's rally said they were concerned about conservation if the new fishery operates outside of the commercial fishery season. (Submitted by Maritime Fishermen's Union)

Belliveau said a pause would help them figure out rules that work for both sides. 

"When it comes to St. Marys Bay this year, we have the Mi'kmaw community move into that community and basically take over the harbour authority — the harbour authority has to take a leave of absence — and blockades are put up [on] a public access wharf," Belliveau told CBC News.

"I don't condone violence, but I understand. I understand the frustration."

The commercial lobster fishery starts soon and some worry that could increase tensions. (CBC)

Ruth Inniss of the Maritime Fishermen's Union spoke at the rally.

"We need the Canadian public, the government, to know that we do not condone the violence, the fires that are going on," she said.

"For us to have a peaceful community, we have to take responsibility. We have to be leaders ... We have to move forward and prove that we are responsible stewards of the resource."

'Quitting is not in our blood'

Michael Sack, chief of the Sipekne'katik, the First Nation community behind the moderate livelihood fishery, later said he welcomed the increased RCMP presence in the area and said his people are facing threats and being denied services.

He said the Mi'kmaw fishers still need more law enforcement presence on the water.

"That first day we dropped our gear, they started hauling it. They should have been charged then and it would have been a different story now. There wouldn't have been someone in the hospital fighting for their life," he told reporters outside his office in Sipekne'katik.

"Our people are very resilient. Quitting is not in our blood. Nobody will stop us."

Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack said some local businesses are refusing to serve Mi'kmaw people over the dispute. (CBC)

He said it's now hard for the Mi'kmaw fishers to work, because some people are refusing to sell to them.

"The industry has handcuffed us everywhere down there. We can't buy traps, gear, we can't sell lobster," he said.

"We've had obstacles put in front of us our whole lives. Canada trains us for that. We'll survive. I'd like to thank fellow Canadians for all the support that we've received throughout this tough time for us."

He said he was moved to hear some Halifax restaurants have stopped selling lobster until the situation is resolved.

"We appreciate that very much," he said. "Hopefully more will follow. You've got the industry trying to push everyone around and if Canada stands up, they won't stand a chance."

Sack rejected the call for a mediator in the ongoing talks between the Mi'kmaw government and the federal government.

"We're willing to talk with commercial fishermen with any concerns they may have, but as far as our nation-to-nation, government talks, it's with minister Jordan, who represents them."


with files from Paul Withers