Nova Scotia

Sipekne'katik may seek UN peacekeepers for contentious N.S. fishery relaunch

The Sipekne'katik First Nation says it is considering asking the United Nations to send peacekeepers to police the self-regulated lobster fishery it plans to relaunch in southwestern Nova Scotia outside the commercial fishing season.

Band says it will return commercial lobster licences, fishing effort won't increase in southwest Nova Scotia

Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Michael Sack, right, is shown with other band member last fall at the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S. (Paul Withers/CBC)

The Sipekne'katik First Nation says it is considering asking the United Nations to send peacekeepers to police the self-regulated lobster fishery it plans to relaunch in southwestern Nova Scotia outside the commercial fishing season.

On Thursday, Chief Mike Sack said Sipekne'katik fishermen will return to St. Marys Bay in June despite warnings in March from federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan that her department will enforce rules prohibiting commercial lobster fishing outside of commercial seasons.

The band intends to fish approximately 1,500 traps from June to Dec. 15. The season will close from July 15 to Sept. 7 for a conservation study with Dalhousie University's marine affairs program to monitor impacts and to protect molting lobsters. The band estimates the fishery will eventually rise to a maximum of 3,600 traps.

"For us, it's not about us fitting into the world that Canada or anybody else wants us to," Sack told reporters. "As far as we're concerned, we're going to move forward with our own seasonal schedule and we're going to go through our plan." 

Sipekne'katik issued licences and lobster trap tags to seven Mi’kmaw harvesters last September. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

He acknowledged the renewal of a "moderate livelihood" fishery will again raise tensions in the area, as it did last fall when the band launched the first out-of-season lobster fishery. It triggered widespread — sometimes violent — protests from commercial fishermen angry that it took place when the commercial season was closed.

"We're going to send a letter off to the United Nations and hoping that they can come and keep the peace. And it was very obvious to me that we couldn't rely on the RCMP or DFO," Sack said.

The band said it will not increase fishing effort in the area because it is returning all nine commercial lobster licences Sipekne'katik holds in Lobster Fishing Area 34 to the federal government. Sack said it expects to receive about $1 million from Ottawa for each commercial licence it relinquishes.

The band forged ahead with its own plans last year after saying it was tired of waiting for the federal government to implement its treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from fisheries, which was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1999 Marshall decisions. The case also confirmed the federal government has the right to manage fisheries.

Commercial fishermen were adamant last fall in their opposition to any lobster fishing outside the commercial season. (Paul Withers/CBC)

On Thursday, Jordan said she hoped Sipekne'katik would return to the bargaining table to come up with an agreement with Ottawa for its moderate livelihood fishery. But the threat of enforcement measures like trap seizures remains.

"We do have conservation and protection officers who are on the water not only to keep people safe, but to make sure that we're doing things within a conservation lens. And, of course, they have a job to do and that's to uphold the Fisheries Act and they will be there to do that job," she told CBC News.

"We have put forward that the moderate livelihood fishery for this year will have to take place within a DFO-established season. It will also have to have a licence."

The commercial season in LFA 34, which is the most lucrative lobster fishery in Atlantic Canada, runs from the end of November to the end of May.

Sipekne'katik said it will police its self-regulated fishery but wants a DFO officer seconded to the effort as the band trains and expands its "guardianship program."

There will be mandatory record keeping, centralized catch reporting and log books for participants.

The band predicts its "treaty fishery" will employ 100 to 120 band members, up from the 20 to 25 currently employed by its commercial-licence fishery.

A supporter of Sipekne'katik holds a Mi'kmaw flag at the Saulnierville wharf in the fall. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Megan Bailey, a professor at the Dalhousie University Marine Affairs Program will lead the conservation study that will attempt to gauge the impact of a summer lobster fishery in St. Marys Bay.

Commercial fishermen contend the summer fishery is reckless because ravenous molting lobsters are far easier to catch.

"But what does that mean for a fishery? There's a huge gap between knowing that information and then knowing whether or not you can have a fishery at what time of the year," Bailey told reporters.

"I would say the most important thing we need to learn is answering the question if there is a bigger impact on fishing lobsters between May and November than outside of that particular window, not just in terms of a per-trap change, but also the total amount of effort."

Sack said he does not accept the federal government has the authority to regulate Sipekne'katik's moderate livelihood fishery.

In March, Jordan said her department will not license any Indigenous moderate livelihood fishery in Atlantic Canada this year unless it operates within the commercial season.

The position sided with a key demand from the region's commercial fishing industry, while angering Indigenous leaders.

"Seasons ensure that stocks are harvested sustainably and they are necessary for an orderly, predictable, and well-managed fishery," Jordan said at the time.

"In effort-based fisheries such as lobster, seasons are part of the overall management structure that conserves the resource, ensures there isn't overfishing, and distributes economic benefits across Atlantic Canada."

On Thursday, the Unified Fisheries Conservation Alliance, a group representing commercial harvesters, said it was concerned by Sipekne'katik plans.

"UFCA supports Indigenous fishers' right to sell their catch, as they do with licences and quotas they hold today, but is opposed to anyone, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, selling fish caught outside federal or provincial regulations," it said in a statement.


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.