Nova Scotia

We'koqma'q gets federal approval for moderate livelihood fishery

We'koqma'q First Nation in Cape Breton is in agreement with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Harvesters can now fish lobster and sell their catch during the 2022 commercial seasons in Lobster Fishing Areas 27 and 31A.

Mi’kmaw community to operate in 2 lobster fishing areas

We’koqma’q First Nation in Cape Breton is in agreement with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on a moderate livelihood fishery. (Francis MacDonald)

Another Mi'kmaw First Nation in Nova Scotia has federal approval for a moderate livelihood fishery.

We'koqma'q First Nation in Cape Breton reached an understanding with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans this week.

Certain harvesters can now fish lobster and sell the harvest during the established 2022 commercial seasons in Lobster Fishing Areas 27 and 31A, which run until mid-July and the the end of June, respectively.

"Our harvesters continued to voice how they wanted to be able to exercise their Treaty Rights safely and they are excited to be able to provide for their families and our community through exercising their inherent rights," said We'koqma'q Chief Annie Bernard-Daisley in a release Friday.

Both fishing areas are off the Cape Breton coast. There will be a limit of 210 traps per fishing area, according to a DFO release.

Annie Bernard-Daisley is the chief of We’koqma’q First Nation. (Brent Kelloway/CBC)

After consultations with DFO, We'koqma'q came to the understanding without having to sign any agreements, said the release from the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs.

The livelihood fishery will be managed through We'koqma'q's and Potlotek's amended Netukulimk Livelihood Fisheries Plan, according to DFO, with help from Potlotek First Nation, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs and Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office.

The chief of Potlotek, another Cape Breton First Nation, has described the principle of netukulimk as using natural resources for the benefit of individuals and the community without harming the environment.

"Consistent, sustainable and collaborative fisheries arrangements are critical to achieving reconciliation and implementing treaty rights," Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray said in a DFO release.

"I remain committed to reaching these understandings together, while ensuring the fishery remains sustainable and prosperous for all Cape Bretoners by not increasing fishing effort."

We’koqma’q First Nation's moderate livelihood fishery will operate out of two fishing areas with 210 traps per area. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

To allow for We'koqma'q's participation in the commercial fishery, DFO said its access is being offset through banked licences and traps not being fished across Cape Breton.

DFO said that lobster stocks in both fishing areas are considered healthy.

We'koqma'q is the sixth First Nation in the province to receive DFO approval for a moderate livelihood fishery. Besides Potlotek, this includes Pictou Landing, Acadia, Bear River and Annapolis Valley.

In the past, the federal government has seized traps from Mi'kmaw communities holding moderate livelihood fisheries without DFO approval. 

In the 1999 Marshall decisions, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed Indigenous people have a treaty right to earn a moderate living from fisheries.

However, it did not define what that meant and said governments have the right to regulate the fishery for conservation and other purposes.

The effort to establish moderate livelihood fisheries in Nova Scotia has also led to violence.

"It`s time that our Mi'kmaw harvesters can exercise their rights without fear of their gear and equipment being seized," said Bernard-Daisley. "We have come a long way and we want to thank and recognize the communities that have come before us to see our people continue traditions that have been an important part of our culture since time immemorial."

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs said in the release that it welcomes the understanding with We'koqma'q. But the assembly said it still sees the need for significant changes within the Fisheries Act to allow for the Mi'kmaq to "truly self-govern" moderate livelihood fisheries.

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