Fisheries group shows solidarity with native fishery

POTLOTEK FIRST NATION: Peace and harmony will be kept and maintained on the waters of St. Peter’s Bay as a local First Nation community begins their own self-regulated fishery.

Leadership between the Potlotek First Nation in Chapel Island and the Richmond County Inshore Fishermen’s Association (RCIFA) have agreed to set their differences aside to avoid a repeat of the direct conflict between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fisherman on St. Mary’s Bay over the implementation of a moderate livelihood fishery for the Sipekne’katik First Nation.

A moderate livelihood fishery allows Mi’kmaq to exercise their treaty rights to fish and trade, making a moderate living for themselves and their families.

“They are just exercising their right,” RCIFA president Gilbert Boucher said. “We live alongside one another, they are good people; the consensus is to just keep quiet.”

However, that was Boucher’s personal opinion and not the viewpoint necessarily of the members of the RCIFA.

Recently, the RCIFA held a meeting with their membership to figure out their position on the issue and to establish a way for them to respond to Potlotek’s moderate livelihood fishery, which is scheduled to begin on October 1 – Treaty Day.

After hearing from the president of the RCIFA, Chief Wilbert Marshall was advised their issue is not with Indigenous fishermen, but rather with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

“The same goes for us, our struggle is not with commercial fisherman, it is with DFO,” Marshall said. “The federal government has got to stop playing politics with this. We want to fish and [commercial] fishermen want to know what will happen so they can make their plans.”

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the Donald Marshall Jr. case that a series of Treaties signed in 1760-61 by Mi’kmaq and the British Crown affirm the right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing. Known as the Peace and Friendship Treaties, they detail that Mi’kmaq have the right to harvest and sell fish, wildlife, and wild fruit and berries to provide a moderate livelihood.

The problem, Marshall said lies with even though the Supreme Court has ruled Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq do have the right to fish to earn a moderate livelihood, there is still no recognized framework for how they can lawfully exercise this right without the fear of harassment, equipment and catch seizures, and prosecution by law enforcement.

The next steps for the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia are creating a framework that will govern how they can exercise their rights; what it means, what it looks like, and what rules should be put in place, and also exploring how they can provide for their communities and families today, while also ensuring sustainability for tomorrow.

In his conversations with RCIFA, Marshall guaranteed that despite their larger crab boat being present on the water, his members fishing for a moderate livelihood, which only accounts for six or seven families from his community, would really be fishing from smaller vessels.

He indicated those fishing a moderate livelihood will use the same style of traps the commercial fishermen use, however, they will be using a less number of traps overall, as they “just don’t have the money,” to furnish boats and traps.

Speaking only for Potlotek, Marshall explained his community has provided a management plan to DFO, something he described as a “living document.”

“They have a [treaty] right to be there,” Boucher said. “There are conservation measures in place, and if they abide by those, then that’s good.”