As 2020 is drawing to a close, there is still no sign of resolve in the moderate livelihood lobster fishing dispute in Nova Scotia.
“We’ve had discussions in the last four or five days with the Minster (Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan) but nothing came out of it,” said Bernie Barry president of the Coldwater Lobster Association in an interview as he was gearing up for the start of the LFA 33/34 fishery. “An hour discussion on the phone… Everybody knows everyone’s positions by now but there’s no give anywhere yet.”
Going into the opening of the commercial lobster fishing season in southwestern Nova Scotia, Barry said so far, industry representatives have only had introductory contact with Allister Surette, who was appointed as a Federal Special Representative by federal Minister Jordan and Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations on Oct. 23.
Surette is to lead discussions with commercial harvesters and First Nations, said Jane Deeks, the fisheries minister’s press secretary via email.
“This is a structured forum to address questions and concerns directly. There will be both an interim and final report delivered to the Ministers on his findings, and they will also help inform our path forward. Every effort will continue to be made to listen openly to industry leadership and to reassure them that their livelihoods and the stocks on which they depend will be protected.”
Meanwhile there were signs of increased enforcement activity in late November with federal Department of Fisheries officers in both St. Mary’s Bay and St. Peter’s Bay landing hundreds of lobster traps.
The two bays, one in Digby County and the other in Cape Breton are where the Sipekne’katik and Potlotek First Nations are seeking to exercise the Treaty Right to fish for a moderate livelihood as affirmed in the Supreme Court Marshall Decision by way of a self-regulated fishery, operating outside the federally regulated commercial fishing season.
“While lobster stocks are generally healthy, monitoring has recently indicated that fishing activities have significantly increased in St. Peter’s Bay. 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,” said Jordan in a statement issued on Nov. 13.
“DFO is responsible for the overall management of Canada’s fisheries and the stocks they depend on. We are stewards of the resource, as is everyone who uses it. When certain fishing activities are clearly unsustainable, fishery officers have a responsibility to act in order 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. They too are members of our communities and must not be subjected to threats or violence,” said Jordan.
“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. I am asking that everyone respect DFO’s role. Let officers do their jobs. We do not want to escalate tensions, but rather to ensure that all fishing is conducted in a safe, orderly and sustainable manner.”
Lawsuits and a constitutional challenge were expected to be launched in December by the Sipekne’katik First Nation against non-Indigenous fishers for alleged damages, as well as fish buyers and other businesses that refused to deal with the Mi’kmaq community after it launched the moderate livelihood lobster fishery in St. Mary’s Bay. The band also intends to file a constitutional challenge against provincial law that prevents Nova Scotia buyers from purchasing First Nations’ moderate livelihood catch. It has retained Halifax lawyer Ron Pink.
In a statement, the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance (NSSA) said the “threat of litigation by the Sipekne’katik band and its legal counsel directed toward seafood buyers is misinformed and misdirected. Even worse, this threat seriously impedes efforts to achieving workable solutions to this complex issue. Simply put, licensed seafood buyers in Nova Scotia are only permitted to purchase raw materials from licensed harvesters who operate within the established regulatory framework of the commercial fisheries. It is illegal for Nova Scotia seafood buyers to operate outside their conditions of license or buy any seafood outside of regulated seasons as stipulated and enforced by DFO. Recent criminal cases involving the sale of lobster harvested outside of these regulated parameters confirm the severe penalties which apply when such activity occurs.”
The NSSA is strongly urging “all parties to direct their energies and focus on a negotiated solution which clarifies the range of legal rights and responsibilities. As an essential stakeholder in the seafood industry, we are more than willing to assist in this process. We believe that conservation and sustainability remain key pillars in the regulatory process and contribute to a viable seafood supply chain in Nova Scotia, in Canada and indeed, throughout the world. We call on the Federal Government, First Nations and commercially licensed harvesters to engage in good faith negotiations to resolve this dispute and achieve a sustainable solution. This important work is long overdue and must be undertaken for the benefit of all.”
The NSSA said since its inception, members have developed trusted and valued working relationships with indigenous and non-indigenous commercial harvesters.
“Over the years, these relationships have benefitted our members as well as provided a market for licensed indigenous and non-indigenous harvesting partners. We are committed to growing these relationships and are confident that all parties can navigate current moderate livelihood challenges to join us in that commitment.”
Jordan reiterated in her statement that “Conservation and sustainability underpin everything we do at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). Indigenous and commercial harvesters share this priority, as their livelihoods depend on the health of our oceans and seafood stocks.
“Our country operated for too long without considering First Nations rights, creating whole systems and institutions without including them. We have made progress since the 1999 Marshall decision, but recognize there is more work to do. As First Nations look to exercise their Treaty Right to pursue a Moderate Livelihood, I want to underscore that we are working with communities to discuss their fishery plans and move quickly to reach agreements. Together we will ensure that the right is implemented in a way that ensures safe, orderly and sustainable fishing.”
“This government is firmly committed to advancing reconciliation and implementing Treaty Rights. That has not changed. 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. 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,” the federal minister noted.