PEI

No more kicking 'the rock down the road,' says P.E.I. MP on Indigenous fishery

Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey, a member of the parliamentary committee looking at Indigenous rights to a moderate livelihood fishery, says it is past time for government to deal with the issue.

‘Canada and the industry suffered a bit of a black eye’

There is room in the fishery for both commercial and Indigenous interests, says Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey, a member of the parliamentary committee looking at Indigenous rights to a moderate livelihood fishery, says it is past time for government to deal with the issue.

The parliamentary fisheries and oceans committee released a report earlier this month containing 40 recommendations on how to move those treaty rights forward.

The Supreme Court of Canada issued two rulings in 1999 confirming Mi'kmaq treaty rights to a moderate livelihood fishery, but what a moderate livelihood is has never been clearly defined. Last fall, the Sipekne'katik  First Nation in Nova Scotia launched a fishery on its own, which commercial fishermen protested as illegal because it was out of season.

"It's unfortunate that since the Marshall decision was made in Supreme Court that successive governments, Liberal and Conservative, have what I would call kicked the rock down the road rather than deal with the issue. And we've seen that come to a head last year," Morrissey told Island Morning's Mitch Cormier.

"Canada and the industry suffered a bit of a black eye from that, and it was unnecessary."

The committee's report upheld the federal ministers' ultimate authority to set fishery regulations, such as the dates for fishing seasons, while urging shared management and decisions with First Nations.

Morrissey said maintaining this ultimate authority for the federal minister is important.

"There was no compelling evidence given by any group, including any First Nation group, that there was a compelling reason to fish at times outside of the long established seasons that are in place," he said.

P.E.I.'s Mi'kmaw chiefs have previously called this approach "paternalistic."

'Not in the treaty'

The issue is complicated, said Morrissey, because governments allowed it to languish, and so 22 years later there is still no clear agreement on how moderate livelihood should be defined.

"Moderate livelihood was not in the treaty," he said.

"It's a modern term. It's a term from our generation and from our governing structure, but it was not defined."

But Morrissey remains convinced that continuing federal authority over conservation measures is both important and consistent with the treaty right. The fishery in Atlantic Canada is lucrative and successful, he said, largely because it has been well managed.

The conversation measures put in place over the last few decades have not always been popular, said Morrissey, and that's why that authority is important.

"Let's be candid, the reason Indigenous and commercials are concerned about the future of this fishery, is because it is valuable. It has been lucrative," he said.

Federal authority is crucial for maintaining conservation, says Bobby Morrissey. (CBC)

"There's enough room to accommodate the commercial fishers and to accommodate the Indigenous community in their quest for access to a moderate fishery. It's putting the parameters on that that will take a lot of discussion and hopefully we can mutually arrive at that decision."

But Morrissey said he would not be surprised if the issue ends up before the courts again.

CBC News contacted L'nuey, the group representing P.E.I.'s Mi'kmaw on treaty rights, but has not yet received a response.

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With files from Island Morning

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