NS Mi’kmaw leaders link lack of DFO control over elver eel fishery to shooting of Eskasoni man

Mi'kmaw harvesters fishing for elver eels at the Head of St. Margaret's Bay in Tantallon, N.S. on Mar. 21, 2023/Photo by Stephen Brake

Mi’kmaw leaders in Nova Scotia are accusing the Department of Fisheries and Oceans of not doing enough to control the elver eel fishery following an alleged shooting of an Eskasoni man in Meteghan, N.S.

“We had previously expressed concerns to DFO about the safety of our harvesters in this region, but we certainly did not anticipate things going this bad, this quickly,” Annapolis Valley First Nation Chief Gerald Toney said in a news release on April 6.

“This is unacceptable and it is time that federal officers start taking steps to ensure the safety of all,” Chief Toney, the fisheries co-lead for the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs, added.

The ANSMC represents eleven of the 13 First Nations in Nova Scotia. Sipekne’katik and Membertou First Nations are not members of the assembly.

Eskasoni man shot in the leg

According to the RCMP, a 38-year-old man from the Eskasoni First Nation was taken to a hospital in the early hours of April 5 after suffering a gunshot wound to his leg.

The RCMP allege the shooting incident happened following an altercation between the victim and another man at a residence in Meteghan.

The RCMP said the alleged suspect, Mitchel Mannette, 29, from Dartmouth, N.S., fled the residence before officers arrived.

The RCMP obtained a province-wide arrest warrant for Mannette on Thursday.

RCMP have obtained a province-wide arrest warrant for Mitchel Mannette, 29, from Dartmouth, N.S. in connection with a shooting in Meteghan Apr. 5, 2023/Photo by RCMP

Mannette is facing several charges which include discharging a firearm with intent, reckless use of a firearm, unauthorized possession of a firearm and failure to comply with conditions of a previous release order.

According to the RCMP, both the victim and Mannette were known to each other. Police “believe that the victim was targeted and this was not a random incident.”

Crystal Dorey, a spokeswoman for the ANSMC, wrote in a follow-up email that the assembly believes the alleged shooting incident is tied to the elver eel fishery that is currently taking place in the province.

However, an RCMP spokeswoman stated in an email that “based on the information and evidence collected to date, this incident is not believed to be related to the elver fishery.”

ANSMC claims non-Indigenous harvesters are fishing without authorization

In its news release, the ANSMC claims that large groups of non-Indigenous harvesters have been elver eel fishing in rivers within the traditional district of Kespukwitk of Mi’kmaw’ki without DFO authorization.

Elver Eels, or baby eels, can sell for $2,000/pound. They’re then shipped to markets in Asia. /Photo by Maureen Googoo

The assembly says these fishermen are using “high-mortality fyke nets” to catch the elver eels which raises “serious conservation concerns which DFO appears to be incapable or unwilling to control.”

“While eel conservation is always a concern for the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw, right now the additional issue is the intimidation and violence being suffered by our fishers,” the news release states.

According to the ANSMC, Mi’kmaw First Nations in the Kespukwitk district have developed their own management plan for a treaty-right-protected fishery.

That plan, the assembly explains, allows its fisheries management team to monitor Mi’kmaw harvesters fishing for elver eels and where they’re fishing.

Elver eel fishing/Photo by Stephen Brake

The Mi’kmaw First Nations geographically located in the Kespukwitk district include Annapolis Valley, L’sitkuk (Bear River) and Acadia.

The elver eel commercial fishery is considered to be very lucrative. According to the Maine State Department of Marine Resources in the United States, the average price for elver eels, also known as baby eels, is approximately $2,000 per pound. The elver eels are shipped to markets in Asia where they’re grown to maturity before being sold for food.

The assembly said it is concerned with the current number of elver eel harvesters fishing along the rivers in Kespukwitk district “without proper authorization, whether that be Mi’kmaw community authorization or from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.”

“We have a constitutional treaty right to fish, which DFO has recognized and endorsed for this elver fishery.”

“The Kespukwitk Mi’kmaq understand river-specific management and we are focusing our harvesting efforts on specific river systems that DFO has agreed to have available elver stocks.”

“DFO has an obligation to make our fishing in those specified rivers safe.”

DFO says violence “may necessitate additional actions”

Lauren Sankey, a spokeswoman for DFO said the department is aware of the incident in Meteghan but has asked that any inquiries regarding the investigation be directed to the RCMP.

“Violence risking the safety of harvesters, the public, and our officers is a threat to the proper management and control of the fishery, which may necessitate additional actions,” Sankey wrote in an email.

A DFO truck outside of the Digby Justice Centre in Digby, N.S. Nov. 22, 2022/Photo by Stephen Brake

“DFO will continue to work closely with our partner agencies and departments to promote a peaceful and orderly fishery, and with the RCMP and local police to monitor and address criminal activity and reports of threats, intimidation, or violence,” she added.

According to DFO, the department has “interim understandings” with the Acadia, L’sitkuk, Annapolis Valley and Glooscap First Nations in Nova Scotia as well as with six Wolastoqey First Nations in New Brunswick for the 2023 commercial elver eel fishery.

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.