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Premier blasts feds over Nova Scotia fishing dispute between Indigenous, non-native fishermen

RCMP, commercial fishermen and First Nations fishermen at a blockade outside a New Edinburgh lobster pound on Wednesday.
RCMP, commercial fishermen and First Nations fishermen at a blockade outside a New Edinburgh lobster pound on Wednesday. - Tina Comeau

Premier Stephen McNeil accused federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan Thursday of bungling the moderate livelihood file.

“Very dissatisfied, quite frankly,” McNeil said of Jordan’s handling of the crisis unfolding in southwestern Nova Scotia.

“We are in a position where (all parties) are not sitting at a table to find what is a workable solution. … This is only getting more entrenched.”

Jordan's press secretary refused to respond to the criticism on Thursday and once again refused to provide the minister for an interview.

The minister has been out of province for most the dispute and is apparently now self-isolating in her home here.

Sipekne’katik First Nation chief Michael Sack said he was assaulted Wednesday afternoon by one of the hundreds of non-aboriginal commercial fisherman who blockaded the pound in New Edinburgh where his fishers are storing their catch.

A video of the confrontation shows Sack grappling with a man who is then led away by RCMP.

No charges have been laid. Sgt. Andrew Joyce said Thursday that the RCMP are investigating.

It came after lobster pounds in West Pubnico and New Edinburge were vandalized by commercial fishermen on Tuesday night. The pound held lobster caught by Sipekne’katik fishermen attempting to pursue a moderate livelihood fishery.

“Today we are announcing that Sipekne’katik intends to seek civil remedies against individuals and entities that have infringed against our constitutionally protected rights and who are attempting to prevent and frustrate the legal exercise of our rights – all for what the country and First Nations have watched play out in disbelief,” reads a statement issued by Sack on Thursday.

“The wilful inaction by our law enforcement in the face of criminal actions against our people, any person is unacceptable. We need to ask, do we find ourselves in a place where we need to protect ourselves? We need to know how can property be damaged, families be threatened, a community’s livelihood be sabotaged in front of us – in front of the world – and the institution that is charged with protecting all people – in their own words simply ‘observing and monitoring’ it all happening?”

In defence of their policing, Joyce said that when police arrived at the West Pubnico pound Tuesday night, their priority quickly became the preservation of life.

"This is an issue that has been facing Nova Scotia for a long, long time and it's just the latest chapter that has been facing the province since 1999," said Joyce.

"I think we can all agree that this issue is not a police issue. It is unfortunate that, for whatever reason, the police have had to get involved in an issue like this for the preservation of life and then do criminal investigations on an issue that is 21 years old."

Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack stands alongside MFU Local 9 president Joel Comeau in New Edinburgh, Digby County on Oct. 14. - Tina Comeau
Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack stands alongside MFU Local 9 president Joel Comeau in New Edinburgh, Digby County on Oct. 14. - Tina Comeau

Over those 21 years since the Supreme Court's Marshall decision, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has repeatedly sought to push the court acknowledged right of individual Mi'kmaw to make a moderate livelihood off of natural resources down the road in exchange for providing First Nations with licences. Over $540 million has been spent by the Crown buying licences and providing training and equipment to Mi'kmaw and Maliseet communities since 1999.

According to a 2017 filing with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada regarding a proposed offshore drilling project, Sipekne’katik First Nation has 15 lobster licences (nine in Lobster Fishing Area 34, three in LFA 35, two in LFA 33 and 1 in LFA 32).

It also has five scallop licences for the Bay of Fundy, 10 swordfish licences, one tuna licence and two sea urchin licences.

Most of its lobster licences are leased to non-aboriginal fishermen.

Both Sack and Jordan have maintained that discussions around enacting the moderate livelihood fishery are “nation to nation” and so commercial fishermen have no place at that table.

But the premier warned Thursday that having all parties to the dispute at the same table, in the same room, is what is needed.

“We have people on all sides who believe they are right,” said McNeil.

“We need the federal minister to sit down with all sides in a room. It is not enough to sit down with Indigenous leaders or with fishing associations by themselves.”

Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack (hat and grey sweater) stands with his community members in New Edinburgh, Digby County on Oct. 14, as unrest continued in an ongoing lobster dispute. - Tina Comeau
Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack (hat and grey sweater) stands with his community members in New Edinburgh, Digby County on Oct. 14, as unrest continued in an ongoing lobster dispute. - Tina Comeau

Cold Water Lobster Association president Bernie Barrie echoed the premier’s words on Thursday.

His members claim that it hasn’t just been the ten First Nations issued moderate livelihood tags by Sipekne’katik First Nation in September that have been fishing St. Mary’s Bay. They claim over 40 First Nation vessels have been fishing the bay outside the commercial season for years.

Data from Fisheries and Oceans Canada show a nearly 50 per cent drop in lobster caught in the bay by commercial fishermen between the 2016-17 season and the 2018-19 season. Licences in St. Mary's Bay sell for around $800,000.

“The evidence of out-of-season fishing, the retention of undersized and egg-bearing females, and the total disregard for DFO’s role in managing the lobster resource cannot continue,” reads a statement issued by the Coldwater Lobster Association on Thursday.

“Commercial fishers are concerned for the sustainability of the fishery. We believe that the seasons, markets, enforcement and the rules need to be applied to all members of the fishery in order to sustain the industry.”

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