A Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw lobster harvester plans to file an injunction against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for seizing his traps in the Bay of Fundy last weekend.
“I’m going to get (my lawyer) to file an injunction on my behalf preventing the DFO from violating my rights until they get this moderate livelihood stuff settled,” Matthew Cope, 34, said.
Cope, who is from the Millbrook First Nation, said he left the wharf in Digby, N.S. on Aug. 29 to check on his lobster traps when he saw DFO officers aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Vessel, The Earl Grey, seizing 60 of his traps.
“We had ten trawls of fifteen each. They took six of them. We caught them in the middle of taking our trawls so I stood up beside them and I said, ‘What are you guys doing?’” Cope explained.
“I have a pre-existing inherited treaty right for fishing and I have a right to do so unhindered,” he said.
60 Mi’kmaw harvesters fishing in Bay of Fundy, St. Mary’s Bay
Cope is among the approximately 60 Mi’kmaw harvesters who are currently lobster fishing in the Bay of Fundy and St. Mary’s Bay off the coast of Nova Scotia. Many of them are practicing their treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from the fishery.
That treaty right was affirmed in the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada court decision, R v. Marshall. In that case, the high court ruled that the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik and Peskotomuhkati have a treaty right to catch and sell fish to earn a living under the Treaty of 1760-61 which was signed by their ancestors and the British crown.
In the Marshall decision, the court ruled the treaty right could only be regulated by DFO for conservation purposes.
However, harvesters like Cope are facing opposition from DFO officers and non-Indigenous commercial fishermen who insist the Mi’kmaw harvesters follow the existing commercial fishing seasons set out under the Fisheries Act.
Currently, the Act does not include the constitutionally protected treaty right to catch and sell fish to earn a moderate livelihood.
Cope said he tagged his lobster traps with a copy of his Indian status card and a note indicating he was exercising his treaty right to fish. He also wrote down his cell phone number on his fishing balloons.
He said he hauled his remaining traps from the bay before the officers could seize them and returned to the Digby Wharf.
“I’m not sure they’re going to come down here and try to seize these traps off my boat or what they’re going to try to do but I’m sitting here waiting and I’m very prepared to stand up for my rights,” Cope said on Saturday.
Ku’ku’kwes News reached out to DFO for comment but hadn’t received an official response by the end of the day Tuesday.
ANSMC continues to negotiate with DFO on moderate livelihood fishery
Membertou Chief Terrance Paul, who is in charge of the fisheries portfolio with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs, says the assembly is supporting harvesters like Cope by continuing to negotiate with the federal government to implement the treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood.
In an email response to Ku’ku’kwes News, Chief Paul explained the assembly rejected a “Rights and Reconciliation Arrangement” proposed by DFO in the spring of 2019 because “it did not meet the needs of our community members.”
“We believe the Mi’kmaq should not be limited to exercising a rights-based fishery through existing licensing structures,” Chief Paul wrote.
Chief Paul said the assembly is currently working with community members to create a Mi’kmaq Netukulimk Livelihood fishery.
“KMKNO and the assembly are supporting our harvesters to put practices in place that protect our treaty rights and that acknowledge the affirmed decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Marshall,” Chief Paul said.