Nova Scotia

Seafood buyers say DFO doesn't let them buy moderate livelihood catch

Nova Scotia seafood buyers say a threatened lawsuit against them from the Sipekne'katik First Nation is "misinformed and misdirected."

Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance says licences only let them buy from DFO-authorized fisheries

Osborne Burke, president of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, said companies are within their rights to refuse to buy lobster from the moderate livelihood fishery because they're within DFO regulations. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Nova Scotia seafood buyers say a threatened lawsuit against them from the Sipekne'katik First Nation is "misinformed and misdirected."

The band is frustrated it cannot find a buyer for lobster harvested under a self-declared and regulated moderate livelihood fishery.

The industry association representing lobster pounds and processors said Monday companies have no choice but to refuse to buy because the fishery has not been authorized by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans — a condition of their provincial buyers licence.

"We're only permitted to purchase seafood from licenced commercial fish harvesters within the regular designated seasons by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Now, if Chief Sack and his lawyers wish to challenge that, then I'd have to say bring it on, because we're within the regulations, we're within the law," said Osborne Burke, president of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance.

Lawsuits against RCMP, DFO and province

Last week, Sipekne'katik Chief Mike Sack threatened to file a number of lawsuits related to its moderate livelihood fishery — against the RCMP and DFO for not protecting band members in the fishery and the Province of Nova Scotia for not changing its regulations to permit purchases.

The fishery launch in mid-September triggered angry, sometimes violent opposition from commercial fishermen and their supporters who object to a commercial harvest when the season is closed.

"We have lawsuits planned against fish buyers and community businesses who refuse to deal with us because we are Aboriginal," band lawyer Ron Pink said.

Halifax lawyer Ron Pink speaks to media on Nov.12, 2020 about the lawsuits he and a legal team are filing on behalf of the Sipekne'katik First Nation around the moderate livelihood fishery. (CBC)

The band argues since the right to fish for a moderate livelihood was recognized as a treaty right by the Supreme Court of Canada, not buying the catch violates their constitutional rights.

But the same court gave the federal government the right to regulate the fishery for conservation purposes. Hence the impasse.

"Chief Sack has to understand there are laws, there are regulations. We're quite prepared to buy any kind of product from any harvester, either Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, during the regular commercial seasons as our licences permit," Burke said.

Legal challenges 'misinformed and misdirected'

In a statement released Monday, the alliance said the threat of litigation "by the Sipekne'katik band and its legal counsel directed toward seafood buyers is misinformed and misdirected. Even worse, this threat seriously impedes efforts to achieve workable solutions to this complex issue."

On Monday, Sipekne'katik chief Mike Sack responded.

Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack speaks to reporters on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., on Oct. 18. (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

"Our hope is that the alliance can understand we need their support to not create further confusion in the general public as their statement today has the potential to spread inaccurate disinformation," Sack said in a statement.

It's the latest push back from the industry to the moderate livelihood fishery.

Last week, the alliance released its position on the fishery, saying that for conservation reasons, it should take place only within commercially regulated seasons.

The industry buys large amounts of seafood — of many species — from Mi'kmaw harvesters fishing with a commercial licence.

It does not accept claims by the Mi'kmaq and some academics that the moderate livelihood fishery is too small to pose a conservation threat to lobster stocks.

Conservation concerns

On Friday, Osborne Burke pointed to conservation concerns in St. Peters Bay in Cape Breton, claiming fishing activity had quickly escalated where two other bands launched moderate livelihood lobster fisheries in October.

Mi’kmaw harvesters from Potlotek First Nation took to the water on St. Peters Bay to launch a moderate livelihood fishery on Oct. 1, 2020. (Brent Kelloway/CBC)

The concerns were also raised by Bernadette Jordan, the federal fisheries minister.

"Lobster stocks are generally healthy, [but] monitoring has recently indicated that fishing activities have significantly increased in St. Peters Bay," Jordan said in a statement issued Friday.

"The scale and operation of current activities is even in excess of First Nation moderate livelihood fishing proposals. When there is a high concentration of traps in a particular area, it raises concerns regarding localized impacts of the stock."

Potlotek First Nation Chief Wilbert Marshall says his band's fishery plan will include enforcement protocols authorized by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. (CBC)

But Chief Wilbert Marshall of Potlotek First Nation, which launched the fishery, told CBC News those concerns are baseless.

"I don't know where they're getting their information from," Marshall said.

Mike Sack also responded to the criticism.

"The recent suggestion by the N.S. Seafood Alliance that Mi'kmaw people have not acted in good faith and that people who committed crimes against us not be held accountable is an insult to the people of Sipekne'katik, Nova Scotians and all Canadians," Sack said in a statement.

"This is not something that would be asked of any non-Indigenous group or individual."

Sipekne'katik has released a poll of 800 Canadians by MQO research claiming 83 percent believe in the treaty right to a moderate livelihood through the fishery and 86 percent of Canadians think DFO should be the ones to decide if the Sipekne'katik First Nation fishery is a threat to the lobster population.