The Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia says it plans to continue on with its own treaty fishery in St. Mary’s Bay in June despite the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’s directive that all moderate livelihood fishing activities must occur during the department’s own commercial fishing seasons.
“As far as we’re concerned, we’re going to move forward with our own season as scheduled and we’re going to go through our plan,” Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack told reporters during a news conference in Indian Brook First Nation, N.S. on April 22.
Chief Sack said the First Nation will launch a phase two of its moderate livelihood fishery on June 1 in Treaty Area One also known as Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 34. The plan calls for a moderate livelihood fishery to take place from June 1 – July 15 and then resume from Sept. 7 – Dec. 15.
From July 16 – Sept. 6, the First Nation will work with Dalhousie University to conduct a study in St. Mary’s Bay on the shell condition of lobsters and its relation to sea surface temperatures.
“We’re going to determine our fishery and we’re going to determine where we’re going to fish at and the number of traps we’ll use,” Chief Sack told reporters.
As part of its draft fishery management plan, the First Nation plans on selling the nine communal commercial lobster licenses it currently holds for LFA 34 back to DFO and issue its own moderate livelihood lobster licenses to band members who wish to fish in area.
Sack said the current communal commercial lobster licenses for LFA 34 “doesn’t serve our community very well.”
“It was communal commercial license but it only employs 20-25 people. It generates a certain number of revenue for the band but if we were to take these same licenses and re-divide them up to our band membership, we would employ over a hundred people, up to two-hundred people,” Sack explained.
Sack said the First Nation’s management plan calls for approximately 1,500 traps to be used during this year’s moderate livelihood fishery. That’s less than half of the amount of traps the First Nation used during the commercial fishing season for LFA 34.
Under its communal commercial lobster licenses for LFA 34, Sipekne’katik was entitled to use up to 3,600 traps during the commercial fishing season which runs from Nov. to May.
“Everyone said there wasn’t room in that fishery for any more traps. So we took it upon ourselves to make our own room,” Sack said.
Fishery launch in Sept. 2020 met with opposition, violence
In Sept. 2020, the Sipekne’katik First Nation first launched its moderate livelihood lobster in Saulnierville, N.S. The fishery was met with opposition from both DFO officials and non-Indigenous commercial lobster harvesters.
That opposition grew into aggressive and at times, violent confrontations between Mi’kmaw and non-Indigenous harvesters in the area. Mi’kmaw harvesters had emergency flares shot at them on the water. Lobster traps were vandalized and a Mi’kmaw-owned van was torched.
A lobster pound which was intended to store Mi’kmaw harvesters’ catch was also vandalized.
In Oct. 2020, an angry mob surrounded a lobster pound in West Pubnico, N.S. where two Mi’kmaw harvesters were storing their catch. When they were escorted out of the pound by RCMP officers, individuals broke into the pound and destroyed the lobsters. A few days later, the pound was set on fire.
Several individuals were charged with assaulting Mi’kmaw harvesters. One of them was charged for attacking Chief Sack.
Sipekne’katik has also filed lawsuit against the individuals for assault, intimidation, false imprisonment and damage to property. The lawsuit also includes the RCMP and DFO for not protecting the Mi’kmaw harvesters and failing to intervene to prevent the vandalism.
In anticipation of more confrontations when the treaty fishery begins, Chief Sack said he plans to contact the United Nations to send peacekeepers to protect Mi’kmaw harvesters.
“It was very obvious to me that we couldn’t rely on the RCMP or DFO so we need to go further and make sure those, they’re held accountable for their action,” Chief Sack said.
“Fishing must occur within established seasons”- DFO spokesperson
In response to Sipekne’katik’s announcement, the press secretary for DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan wrote in an email that the department “has not received any formal request from Sipekne’katik First Nation to relinquish their commercial licenses.”
“As we stated earlier this year, fishing must occur within the established seasons and with a DFO-authorized license,” Jane Deeks wrote.
“As confirmed by the Marshall Decision, DFO has a critical role to play in managing the shared resource of fish and seafood stocks and of supporting our fisheries to be safe and sustainable,” she wrote.
Chief Sack said he found it “disgraceful” that Minister Jordan would say that DFO has complete jurisdiction over the First Nation’s moderate livelihood fishery.
“We’re a treaty fishery. We have a right to do so. Minister Jordan and the cabinet are completely overstepping. They have no right to do so,” Chief Sack said.