The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has given a commercial fishing wharf in Nova Scotia to a First Nations entity over objections from the local harbour authority.
Ownership of the Tickle Wharf in Canso was transferred this spring for $1 to the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs.
As part of the handover, DFO spent $346,000 repairing the wharf in 2020.
The transfer was opposed by the Canso Harbour Authority, which manages the small but historic port on the province's Eastern Shore.
Chair Robert Anderson said the authority repeatedly asked DFO to maintain the L-shaped wharf located on the community's outskirts.
"We didn't agree with the divestiture," Anderson told CBC News. "We were trying to get money from them for years to try to do the necessary repairs to it and they wouldn't give us any money. It is being used by the fishers at the other end of town here."
'We wanted to maintain the lease'
The transfer came at the end of what had been a routinely renewed five-year lease between DFO's small craft harbours division and the harbour authority. The lease expired March 31, 2021.
Anderson said the harbour authority's opposition to the transfer has nothing to do with First Nations.
"No, it's not that," he said. "We had the lease in place since we formed the harbour authority and the wharf was being used by the local fishers. We wanted to maintain that lease. We wanted it renewed."
The wharf in Canso is the second recent transfer to First Nations in Nova Scotia.
The Canada Creek Wharf on the Bay of Fundy in Kings County was given to the Annapolis Valley First Nation for $1 after DFO spent $1.9 million on improvements in 2019.
"We're always looking at ways to make sure that we're best serving communities. And that's one of the ways we're doing it," Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan told CBC News.
Could be used for moderate livelihood
It is not clear exactly what will happen to the Tickle Wharf in Canso.
The legal entity given ownership is Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office, the consultation and treaty advocacy body of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs.
The office's director of consultation, Twila Gaudet, declined to reveal plans for the wharf, but said it could be used in pursuit of treaty fishing rights.
"At this point, decisions on how these [wharfs] will be used have yet to be made public. There is always a potential that the decision could be to use it for moderate livelihood purposes," Gaudet said in a statement.
Tickle Wharf deemed surplus in 2018
DFO said the wharf transfer is not connected to treaty fishing rights but was a standard divestiture like any other asset under the department's small craft harbours division.
The Tickle Wharf was deemed "low activity," declared surplus in 2018 and offered to other federal agencies, levels of government, and First Nations.
The Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office expressed an interest in acquiring the property and the transfer was negotiated, DFO said in a statement.
"These transfers were conducted as part of a small craft harbour's divestiture process and are not related to the Marshall decisions or the implementation of a moderate livelihood fishery by First Nations," DFO said in a statement.
Local fishermen must vacate wharf in 5 years
Anderson said the handful of commercial fishermen who use the wharf today have five years before they have to find another place to tie up.
He said DFO has indicated there is room for them elsewhere in Canso.
"After the period ends in five years, they'll tie up at the wharf down in town, which is quite a ways away from their home, you know, to go check in on the boat," he said.
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