King says he is working with PEIFA, Mi'kmaq chiefs on solution to fishing dispute

Premier Dennis King says he will continue to have discussions with the fishing industry and Mi’kmaq chiefs on P.E.I. to find a 'peaceful and workable' solution to the lobster fishing dispute.

P.E.I. premier says he supports Mi'kmaq right to moderate livelihood

After decades of differing opinions and debate on First Nations’ right to earn a “moderate livelihood” while fishing, affirmed by a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1999, a Mi’kmaw community in Nova Scotia has launched its own Mi’kmaq-regulated, rights-based lobster fishery. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Premier Dennis King says he will continue to have discussions with the fishing industry and Mi'kmaq chiefs on P.E.I. to find a "peaceful and workable" solution to the lobster fishing dispute.

The dispute between commercial lobster fishermen and Mi'kmaq fishermen has led to violence and unrest in southwest Nova Scotia, with commercial fishermen there objecting to Mi'kmaq boats fishing out of season, saying it could harm lobster stocks.

There have been no reported incidents of violence on P.E.I.

Last month, chiefs Junior Gould and Darlene Bernard said they too would launch a moderate livelihood fishery in P.E.I. waters after consulting with their communities. 

In an email statement to CBC, King said his government acknowledges and supports the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling affirming that the Mi'kmaq have a treaty right to a moderate livelihood fishery in the region.

King said there has been respectful dialogue on P.E.I. involving his office, the chiefs and commercial fishermen.

I feel that there is a desire to find a reasonable, peaceful and workable solution.— Premier Dennis King

"I feel that there is a desire to find a reasonable, peaceful and workable solution — one that incorporates the sustainable conservation of the resource, an objective that everyone shares," he said in the statement.

"Next week, I will be sitting down, again, with Chief Gould and Chief Bernard to continue these discussions, which I hope will lead to a collaborative solution in Prince Edward Island."

Ian MacPherson of the PEI Fishermen's Association said he concurs that the dialogue with the premier and the chiefs has been "straightforward and respectful," and he is looking forward to that continuing.

In an interview with CBC News, Gould said he agreed the discussions with the province and commercial fishermen have been respectful. He said Mi'kmaq fishermen have not exercised their full treaty right over the past 21 years, and instead have fished alongside commercial fishermen during government-regulated fishing seasons.

He said he doesn't expect the situation to escalate on P.E.I. as it has in Nova Scotia.

Chief Junior Gould of Abegweit First Nation says the unrest in Nova Scotia can be avoided on P.E.I. with respectful dialogue. (Travis Kingdon/CBC News)

"I don't want to say it won't happen here, but I think through open discussion and [if] everybody engages every level of government, it could be prevented. I think just through open discussion, respectful dialogue, I think those kinds of violent acts and the situation they're in right now could be very avoidable."

Gould said "conservation supercedes everything" and the Mi'kmaq would scale back their fishing if the lobster stocks became threatened.

The important thing for now, he said, is for everyone to agree on a definition of what constitutes a moderate livelihood.

Moderate livelihood 'isn't minimum wage'

Gould said he doesn't know what a moderate livelihood is, but he knows what it isn't.

"It isn't below the poverty line. It isn't minimum wage. I know that for a fact," he said. "It isn't where the Abegweit First Nation fishermen and crew receive just enough to get EI. Just enough to get by isn't a moderate living." 

On Monday, Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker called on King to clearly state his government's position on the dispute, saying Mi'kmaq fishermen are being subjected to racism and violence for exercising their legal treaty rights.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Angela Walker