ST. PETER’S: Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) took more action against First Nation fishermen who are exercising their treaty rights to fish for a moderate livelihood out of St. Peter’s Bay.
On November 22, DFO boats were seen in Lennox Passage hauling traps and throwing out lobsters.
Earlier this month, the federal minister of fisheries indicated she had concerns surrounding the sustainability of lobster fishing in St. Peter’s Bay – where Potlotek First Nation established their own rights-based fishery on October 1.
“While lobster stocks are generally healthy, monitoring has recently indicated that fishing activities have significantly increased in St. Peters Bay,” Minister Bernadette Jordan said. “The scale and operation of current activities is even in excess of First Nation moderate livelihood fishing proposals. When there is a high concentration of traps in a particular area, it raises concerns regarding localized impacts to the stock.”
Minister Jordan suggested when certain fishing activities are clearly unsustainable, fishery officers have a responsibility to preserve Canada’s coastal areas and resources.
“It is part of their role to enforce the regulations in place, in order to conserve shared fisheries resources,” she said. “If fishery officers are concerned about excessive fishing negatively impacting long-term sustainability of lobster, they will need to take action – whoever is doing the fishing. “
However, Chief Wilbert Marshall of Potlotek First Nation said he doesn’t know where the federal government is getting their information. But he said the Richmond County Inshore Fishermen’s Association claims their moderate livelihood fishery is using upwards of 2,000 traps in St. Peter’s Bay.
He advised his band currently has less than 800 traps in the water, after DFO officials “unjustly seized” approximately 150 of their traps late-October; while a neighbouring band, Eskasoni, which is also harvesting in the waters, has approximately 400.
Despite not sharing the same concerns as the federal minister of fisheries on the overfishing in St. Peter’s Bay, Chief Marshall has been encouraging moderate livelihood fishers to disperse throughout the waters of Unama’ki (Cape Breton).
But they won’t he said, as they don’t feel safe to do so. The chief said they’ve been targeted and received threats of violence – and feel more comfortable sticking close together.
Minister Jordan is asking everyone to respect DFO’s role and let the officers do their job.
“We do not want to escalate tensions, but rather to ensure that all fishing is conducted in a safe, orderly, and sustainable manner,” she said.
Minister Jordan advised conservation and sustainability is a shared priority between Indigenous and commercial harvesters, as their livelihoods depend on the health of the oceans and seafood stocks.
“Our country operated for too long without considering First Nations rights, creating whole systems and institutions without including them,” she said. “We have made progress since the 1999 Marshall decision, but recognize there is more work to do.”
In a subsequent standing committee on Fisheries and Oceans on November 18, Minister Jordan was grilled during her first appearance before the committee since the implementation of a Mi’kmaq moderate livelihood fishery started in mid-October.
Facing tough questions, in at times a somewhat hostile environment, the federal minster was asked if she has ever read the Marshall decision – hesitatingly, she admitted that she has not read it in its entirety.
Minister Jordan explained as First Nation communities look to exercise their Treaty Right to pursue a moderate livelihood, she wanted to underscore that DFO officials are working with communities to discuss their fishery plans and move quickly to reach agreements.
“We need to work out these differences at the table, not on the water. We need to sit down nation-to-nation. We need to do this through respectful, constructive dialogue,” she said. “It is all our responsibility to protect the shared resource. Our goal is, and always has been to develop a strong, stable, and productive fishery for the benefit of everyone involved.”
In response, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs advised this was precisely why the Mi’kmaq communities fishing under a Community Netukulimk Management Plan have been very transparent with DFO on the access Mi’kmaq harvesters will have on the water.
“We have provided DFO an overview of the number of tags that will be harvested under our plan and how many of that tags are actively in the water,” Chief Marshall said. “In fact, we are fishing fewer traps than what has been authorized in our plans and any traps in the water that are not properly tagged, do not belong to our harvesters.”
The assembly said they have attempted to work with DFO and have provided several solutions on how they can work together to verify the reporting of traps – none of which have been accepted by DFO.
“While we have been open with DFO, they are refusing to share their data and reporting numbers with us,” Chief Leroy Denny said of Eskasoni First Nation. “They know exactly what our harvesters are doing and what they are putting in the water. If DFO’s Conservation and Protection Officers want to look at traps, we will comply; but seizing traps that are authorized under our plan is not acceptable.”