PEI

Lobster fishing must remain in season, says former fisheries chair

Wayne Easter, the P.E.I. MP who chaired the federal fisheries committee looking at moderate livelihood fisheries 21 years ago, says there are still questions to be resolved, but fishing out of season shouldn’t be one of them.

‘The federal government has allowed a regulatory system with unconstitutional provisions’

MP Wayne Easter chaired a Commons committee on moderate livelihood fisheries in 1999. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Wayne Easter, the P.E.I. MP who chaired the federal fisheries committee looking at moderate livelihood fisheries 21 years ago, says there are still questions to be resolved, but fishing out of season shouldn't be one of them.

In two decisions in 1999, known as Marshall I and Marshall II, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that Indigenous people have historic treaty rights to moderate livelihood fisheries. Easter's committee was asked to examine the implications and made 28 recommendations.

The current federal fisheries committee has begun another review. 

"There is some things that weren't done," Easter told Island Morning's Laura Chapin.

"What we said in our report then, the concept of moderate livelihood must be clarified or better defined. That hasn't been done. The review now would be in part with accordance with that recommendation 21 years ago."

In Nova Scotia three Mi'kmaq communities, tired of waiting for the federal government, have launched fisheries.

It is difficult to say why the definition of moderate livelihood fisheries hasn't been clarified decades later, said Easter. Successive governments, both Conservative and Liberal, have failed to show leadership on the issue, he said.

"It is complicated and it does cause some animosity, maybe that's the reason," he said.

"But it does have to be settled."

Treaty embedded in constitution

Chief Darlene Bernard of the Lennox Island First Nation on P.E.I. said Easter needs to take a share of the responsibility for the lack of action on the issue.

"No one was better positioned or should have been more aware of the responsibilities and obligations of the federal government in response to the Marshall decision," said Bernard in a statement sent to CBC News.

Wayne Easter has been an MP for all of the 21 years since the Marshall decision, notes Lennox Island Chief Darlene Bernard. (John Robertson/CBC)

"It's been 21 years and the federal government has allowed a regulatory system with unconstitutional provisions go without amendment. Mr. Easter has been a sitting member of Parliament for those entire 21 years and has not remedied this issue."

Easter agreed it is important to let Indigenous people into the fishery and that needs to be done through nation-to-nation negotiations, but he said in his view the federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans still needs to maintain regulatory power.

"It's a concern of science," said Easter.

"Critical to managing the resource itself is fishing in season, and the Marshall decision, in my view, on its recommendation, said that was the authority and the responsibility of the federal government and the minister of Fisheries and Oceans and should be applied to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal fisheries."

Conservation an Indigenous priority

Chief Junior Gould of Abegweit First Nation took issue with the implication that an Indigenous fishery might jeopardize lobster stocks.

"It is insulting to have a representative of the Crown, one of our P.E.I. representatives, imply that conservation and protection of the resource is anything but our priority," said Gould.

Conserving resources for future generations has always been a priority of the Mi'kmaq, says Chief Junior Gould. (John Robertson/CBC)

The P.E.I. chiefs noted that a Dalhousie University fisheries researcher has said the fishery managed by the Sipekne'katik First Nation in southwest Nova Scotia, the first of the three to launch in that province, does not threaten the stocks despite being outside the season.

The chiefs said any conservation issues that need to be addressed would have to consider limitations on the commercial fishery first.

The Mi'kmaq on P.E.I. intend to launch their own managed moderate livelihood lobster fishery in the spring. They would not say if it would happen within the commercial season, but did guarantee that it would not jeopardize the resource.

The chiefs said they continue to look forward to meaningful dialogue about a moderate livelihood fishery on the Island.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Laura Chapin

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