All eyes are on the federal government going into the end of the commercial lobster season in southwestern Nova Scotia this year, to see if Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan is good on her word.
In a statement issued by Jordan on March 3, “effective this season, we will introduce a new path for First Nations to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood, one that addresses much of the feedback we’ve heard over the past year. It’s a path that is flexible, adaptable and based on three key principles: implementation of First Nations Treaty rights, conservation and sustainability of fish stocks and transparent and stable management of the fishery,” said Jordan.
The path includes the requirement that moderate livelihood fisheries “operate within established seasons,” said Jordan.
“Seasons ensure that stocks are harvested sustainably and they are necessary for an orderly, predictable and well-managed fishery. In effort-based fisheries such as lobster, seasons are part of the overall management structure that conserves the resource, ensures there isn’t overfishing, and distributes economic benefits across Atlantic Canada. In Marshall II, the Supreme Court clearly stated, ‘treaty rights are subject to regulation provided such regulation is shown by the Crown to be justified on conservation or other grounds of public importance.’ That is what we are implementing.”
While Nova Scotia’s 13 Mik’maw Chiefs have said they cannot accept what the minister announced and “reject” the minister’s “attempt to limit our Constitutional Rights,” commercial fisheries representatives especially in the Clare area are hoping there isn’t a repeat of last summer and fall when the Shubenacadie-based Sipekne’katik First Nation launched a moderate livelihood fishery in St. Mary’s Bay on Sept. 17 and the subsequent fallout.
“Even before this became what it is now, for the last few years we tried to reach out to as many First Nations as we could to try and find some kind of understanding between us and First Nations, trying to explain our point of view,” said Lex Brukovskiy, president of Maritimes Fishermen’s Union (MFU) Local 9 in an interview.
“How can a group of people take over our communities, take over our wharf? The boats from Saulnierville wharf still can’t tie back up there. Nobody feels safe to leave their boats at that wharf. It’s always patrolled by groups of people involved in this dispute. We’re getting no answers. We’ve reached out to the government to sort this out. We’re borderline living in a war zone in the heart of this conflict. It’s hard on everybody,” he said.
“It’s always been up to the government not to let the situation escalate up to the level it has escalated to,” said Brukovskiy. “Since before this whole thing began, we’ve reached out to government for months, had peaceful protests for months trying to encourage them to do something about this situation,” but instead “felt let down by the government.”
The last statement by Jordan promising to enforce the Fisheries Act “might have calmed things down a little bit as far as the fishermen go,” said Brukovskiy. “We have put our trust in the government to see how they are going to handle this situation. Whether they are going to follow up on (the minister’s) promises. Everybody is trying to stay as calm as they can and allow the government to do their job and enforce the Fisheries Act.”
In her statement, Jordan said “all harvesters will see an increased and coordinated federal presence on water and on land this spring, including fishery officers, supported by Canadian Coast Guard vessels. Fishery officers have the difficult job of enforcing the Fisheries Act equally to all harvesters, in very complex and evolving conditions. They are hardworking members of our communities — they are our neighbours. Some actions taken last year by individuals inhibited the work of fishery officers. We must all give them the space and respect to do their job.”
Former RCMP officer Dan Nadeau, who is now working as a fisheries advisor on the ground with the MFU, said he and other MFU representatives have been travelling and meeting with fishermen throughout southwestern Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy, “pleading with them to stay calm and to allow the process to unfold and wait until Ottawa makes a decision. Everything is dependant with Ottawa. Our ultimate goal has always been a peaceful resolution,” he said.
“We still have no clear message in terms of what enforcement plans DFO is going to take in the event.” The Sipekne’katik First Nation does return to St. Mary’s Bay after the commercial season closes on May 31 to exercise their treaty right for a moderate livelihood fishery, said Nadeau.
The Band also exercises its treaty right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes in St. Mary’s Bay, which it can do year-round.
“DFO has to be visible on the water this summer,” said Nadeau, adding based on recent calls with DFO, “I wasn’t really convinced they were taking the proper steps… my spider senses are tingling.”
Since coming on the job with the MFU, Nadeau said he has been finding all kinds of issues that he has been bringing to the forefront with Ottawa.
“The problem with St. Mary’s Bay, it’s not a generic type native fishing dispute. Saulnierville is an entity in itself because of the involvement of others… that are enabling the poaching and moving of illegal lobsters. It’s all been identified and documented. So far, I haven’t had any feedback of addressing it,” said Nadeau.
There’s also been environmental concerns as a result of unattended First Nations fishing boats at the Saulnierville wharf last year that broke their lines and sunk.
The Saulnierville wharf “looked like a war zone, filled with oil and diesel,” said Brukovskiy.
“It was just a disgusting sight to see. Complete neglect of the boats that were there… we tried to bring up the issue with Environment Canada, DFO and the Coast Guard and nobody did anything about it. They completely ruined the harbour for the time that they were there. We documented all the oil there. They would keep their lobsters in the water tied up in crates floating in oil. The whole harbour was an oil slick with lobsters floating in it. We documented it all, tried to raise concern and nothing was done about it.”
Brukovskiy said there is a lot of concern in the community with what will happen this summer when it comes to the moderate livelihood fishery dispute. “People are very concerned. We have an elderly population who are afraid. There’s a lot of underlying currents in this situation that hurt the community. Government is still not doing their due diligence. It always comes back to the government.”
The new path for First Nations to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood as outlined by Jordan also includes, firstly, working “with Marshall communities to develop Moderate Livelihood Fishing Plans (MLFP) that may be unique to each community or collective, are authorized and licensed by my department, and will enable fishing this season. These plans can be used ahead of reaching a Rights Reconciliation Agreement, can be long term or yearly, and will be achieved through a collaborative governance process. As Minister, I am prepared to license activities under these fishing plans, opening up the ability for First Nation harvesters to fish and sell their catch, and the opportunity to earn a moderate livelihood. These plans are a fundamental shift to how the Government has approached this issue and are representative of the conversations we’ve had with our First Nations partners.”
Jordan said secondly, fishing effort will not increase. “The Government of Canada will balance additional First Nations access through already available licences and a willing buyer-willing seller approach, protecting our stocks and preserving the industry for generations to come.”