Mi’kmaw lobster harvesters in southwestern Nova Scotia say they feel harassed by non-Indigenous harvesters for practicing their treaty right to earning a moderate livelihood by setting lobster traps in St. Mary’s Bay.
“It’s been very bad here lately from the people here,” David McDonald, 62, said at the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S. on Friday. “They don’t respect us. They belittle us more or less. They don’t respect our rights.”
McDonald, a member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia, has been setting lobster traps in the bay since July under his community’s communal food fishery license. Under that license, McDonald was given three lobster tags to use.
“We’re trying to do everything right, make everybody happy. But it ain’t making everybody happy and it ain’t ever will make everybody happy because they don’t want to respect that we have a right to fish,” McDonald said.
Fellow Sipekne’katik First Nation member Robert Sack and his wife, Shannon, echo McDonald’s comments. Sack, who also has a boat docked at the Saulnierville Wharf, says he has read online social media posts from non-Indigenous harvesters threatening to cut the buoys from Mi’kmaw harvesters’ lobster traps.
“They’re talking about what they could do to us and how they need to get together and come down and bring all their big boats down and kind of chase us out of here, I guess,” Sack, 42, explained.
The couple say that despite the opposition, they are continuing to exercise their treaty right to fish to earn a moderate livelihood which was affirmed by the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Donald Marshall, Jr. case.
“We’re representing our treaty rights and we’re showing we can do it,” Sack said.
McDonald and the Sacks are among a group of Mi’kmaw harvesters who are currently docked at several wharves in the Digby, N.S. They’re in the area taking part in the Aboriginal communal food fishery or exercising their treaty right to catch as sell fish.
“Trying to blacklist whoever comes near us” – Robert Sack
The Sacks say they’ve been told by local lobster buyers and those who sell bait that they can’t do business with them due to on-going pressure from non-Indigenous harvesters.
“(The non-Indigenous harvesters are) letting everybody know that whoever does business with us, they’re not going to receive their business during the commercial season. So, they’re pretty much trying to blacklist whoever comes near us,” Sack said.
The harvesters say the harassment isn’t only coming from non-Indigenous harvesters. They’ve also had their gear seized by officers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
On Saturday, Millbrook First Nation member Matthew Cope said DFO officers seized 60 lobster traps he set in the Bay of Fundy. He said he plans to file an injunction against DFO from seizing his traps “until they get this moderate livelihood stuff settled.”
McDonald said he tried to fish under his moderate livelihood treaty right last year but DFO officers seized his traps.
“I put my name, my band number in the trap on my buoys and they still took them,” McDonald said. “It was only ten traps so it wasn’t outrageous and they still wouldn’t allow that.”
McDonald said he wasn’t charged with illegal fishing and was given back his traps just before the fall commercial lobster fishing season began.
McDonald says he’s doubtful Mi’kmaw harvesters like himself will be able to fish harmoniously with non-Indigenous harvesters in the area. He says he would like to see wharves set up just for Mi’kmaw harvesters to use for their moderate livelihood fishery.
“We need our own wharves because they’re not going to allow us in,” McDonald said.
“When you get out and try to mingle in with everybody else, it doesn’t work. They don’t want nothing to do with you,” McDonald explained. “So how are we supposed to work with these people when they’ve shown that they don’t want to work with us?”
In an email, a spokesperson with DFO stated that departmental officials have met “regularly with representatives from both Indigenous communities and the industry sector to share information on the management and sustainability of fishery resources in the area.”
“It is imperative that we work together to maintain orderly and sustainable fisheries, to respect the rights of First Nation harvesters, and to ensure coastal communities continue to thrive,” the spokesperson wrote.