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IN DEPTH: Covering a contentious lobster fishery
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Clearly, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan doesn’t suffer from NIMBY syndrome (Not In My Backyard).
How do we know? Because she’s allowed fisheries tensions to escalate to the point where Sipekne’katik First Nation and commercial lobster harvesters were facing off in her backyard this week, along St. Marys Bay, a few hundred kilometres as the crow flies from her Nova Scotia riding of South Shore-St. Margarets.
To be fair, the issue has simmered for decades. A 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision reaffirmed the treaty rights of Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaw communities to a moderate livelihood fishery. Tempers have flared occasionally over the years, and none of Jordan’s predecessors had the courage to create an industry where the moderate livelihood fishery happened without opposition from commercial fishers.
But this week’s events called for Jordan to step up and lead. Commerical harvesters, arguing the Sipekne’katik First Nation’s moderate livelihood fishery was not DFO-sanctioned, swarmed and vandalized a buyers’ facility in Digby County on Oct. 13.
Jason Marr, a moderate livelihood fisher, was putting away the 3,300 pounds of lobster he’d caught with his daughters when he says “all hell broke loose.”
“A couple hundred guys show up, they’re smashing windows, they vandalized my van,” Marr told SaltWire Network’s Aaron Beswick.
Marr refused to leave his catch and posted videos of himself in the pound surrounded by yelling commercial fishers.
“The government needs to step in and do something,” he said.
He is right.
The situation required more than Jordan issuing a written statement calling for calm. She needed to be a little more like the late federal fisheries minister John Crosbie, who made the toughest DFO decision ever when he closed the North Atlantic cod fishery in 1992 and put some 35,000 people out of work. He confronted an angry mob on a wharf the day before his expected announcement, famously telling them: “I didn’t take the fish from the God damn water.”
Granted, the moderate livelihood fishery is seen as a more complex issue, and Jordan — who is said to be self-isolating — was no doubt working behind the scenes, but she still could have pleaded for calm on social media or held a virtual news conference. A written statement and tweeting a link just wasn’t enough.
The lack of action has upset many, including Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil.
“Very dissatisfied, quite frankly…” he said Thursday. “This is only getting more entrenched.”
The situation continued to escalate Friday, with a protest at Province House in Halifax, and calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to step in.
The fishery is a foundation of this region’s communities, whether Indigenous or settler. While we don’t condone aggression or vandalism, we realize these actions stemmed from frustration, which DFO and Jordan could have helped keep in check.
The minister needs to show leadership before someone gets seriously hurt, or worse.