Mi’kmaw lobster harvesters confronted a large group of protesters who gathered at a wharf in Weymouth, N.S. Tuesday morning to protest against the Mi’kmaq treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood.
Approximately 300 protesters, mostly non-Indigenous commercial lobster harvesters, stood at the entrance to the wharf to show their disapproval towards Mi’kmaw harvesters who are currently setting lobster traps in St. Mary’s Bay and the Bay of Fundy.
Robert Syliboy, a member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation, said he and several other Mi’kmaw harvesters drove to the wharf in Weymouth to check on their boats and gear when they heard protesters were present.
“They were (standing) shoulder-to-shoulder on the edge of the wharf, looking down at the boats,” Syliboy said Tuesday. “Some of them were jumping on and off the boats.”
Syliboy live-streamed his encounter with the protesters on Facebook.
In the video, a few protesters and several Mi’kmaw harvesters yelled at each other at the wharf entrance for several minutes, arguing over the Mi’kmaw treaty right to catch and sell lobster.
Syliboy can be heard off-camera trying to explain why harvesters like himself are fishing in St. Mary’s Bay with several protesters telling him why they don’t agree with him.
“I think they’re all just upset that we’re fishing and they don’t want us to fish during this time because they can’t fish during this time,” Syliboy said.
“If they were able to fish right now, they wouldn’t have an issue with us fishing, he added.”
Earlier in the morning, the protesters stacked lobster traps at the entrance to the wharf in nearby Saulnierville before moving their protest to Weymouth.
Protest over food fishery, moderate livelihood fishery
The protesters accuse the Mi’kmaw harvesters of abusing their aboriginal right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes, a fishery that is regulated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. They accuse the Mi’kmaw harvesters of selling their catch in contravention of the food fishery regulations.
However, the Mi’kmaw harvesters say they’re practicing their treaty right to catch and sell fish to earn a moderate livelihood. That treaty right was affirmed in the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision, R. v. Marshall.
To date, the Fisheries Act has not been amended to accommodate the treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from the fisheries.
Alex McDonald, a former Sipekne’katik chief and band councillor, can be seen on on the video arriving at the wharf and encouraging the other Mi’kmaw harvesters to follow him on the wharf to check the condition of their boats and gear.
“(Alex) is a respected fisherman. He’s always fought for our rights,” Syliboy said. “We just followed him down to stand and protect our boats to make sure nothing happens,” he added.
Eventually, the protesters follow the Mi’kmaw harvesters onto the wharf where they form a line. Two RCMP officers can be seen in the crowd speaking with both Mi’kmaw harvesters and the protesters.
On Monday, Chief Michael Sack urged his fellow band members not to engage with the non-Indigenous protesters.
Chief Sack has sent letters to the Premier of Nova Scotia, the minister for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the commanding officer for the Nova Scotia RCMP calling for them to protect Mi’kmaw harvesters while they practice their treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from the fishery.
Sipekne’katik to try a “test” moderate livelihood fishery
On Thursday morning, the Sipekne’katik First Nation plans on issuing lobster tags to members as part of its own Sipekne’katik Rights Implementation Fishery.
The tags will be distributed following a ceremony to bless the fleet and tags at the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S.
In a community notice dated Sept. 14, the Sipekne’katik chief and council has decided to operate a test moderate livelihood fishery in order to collect data for analysis and make adjustments if required.
“The effect of this short “test” fishery on a commercial lobster industry that lands sixty million pounds of catch is insignificant,” the notices reads.
“The lobster caught in our test fishery will be available for sale to the public or fish buyers through a community truck house and a band established regulatory process on reserve,” the notice states.