Commercial fishermen dumped about 100 lobster traps outside a federal office in southwestern Nova Scotia on Monday, after others protested outside the home of someone alleged to have purchased lobster, harvested with those traps, from the Mi'kmaw.
The fishermen say the Mi'kmaw traps violate federal regulations. They were taken in a convoy of trucks to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans office in Meteghan, N.S., after being hauled out of the water over several days, according to a union representative.
"It's illegal equipment and so we hope that they take a look at them and realize that this is a problem," said Luc LeBlanc of the Maritime Fishermen's Union.
Earlier, a large crowd of protesters gathered in front of an alleged buyer's home in the nearby community of Comeauville.
"Our strategy today is to demonstrate to the Canadian people that our fight here is not with Indigenous people and Indigenous fishers," said Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association.
"It's with the federal government and it's with people from within our own community who are facilitating the buying of illegal fishery products."
The protests come after days of tension that began when a self-regulated lobster fishery launched on Thursday at a wharf in nearby Saulnierville — 21 years after a landmark Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the Mi'kmaw right to earn a "moderate livelihood" from fishing. The ruling also said the federal government had to justify any regulations it placed on the Mi'kmaw fishery.
Many commercial lobster fishermen say they consider the new Sipekne'katik fishery illegal and worry that fishing outside the mandated season will hurt lobster stocks.
Sipekne'katik officials say fishery was launched after the band was unable to find common ground with the DFO on the definition of "moderate" livelihood. They argue the amount of lobster that will be harvested is tiny compared to what's caught during the commercial season.
Sipekne'katik Chief Michael Sack said in a statement Monday that he is focusing his efforts this week on meeting with law enforcement and federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan.
Sack said over the weekend there were reports that Mi'kmaw lobster trap lines were being cut. On Monday, he called for charges to be laid, and said cutting traps was "shameful and un-Canadian" and done "falsely in the name of conservation."
"This is a David and Goliath situation. We have seven boats, each with a potential of 50 traps which we are monitoring and will be recording and reporting on," Sack said in the release.
CBC News reached out to the minister for comment on Monday morning but has not yet received a response.
'We must have dialogue'
Sproul said the fishermen who hauled in traps on Sunday did so "under the watchful eye" of RCMP, the coast guard and DFO helicopters and vessels.
"And they took no enforcement action against us. And the reason is because our actions were within the law," he said.
A CBC reporter saw RCMP personnel in the area but could not confirm the presence of the coast guard or DFO.
But Sproul said the fishermen are eager to de-escalate the situation.
"What you can expect to see from us is a continued outreach to the Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia. We must have dialogue."
'People at risk'
The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs said they met with Jordan and Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, on Monday morning.
The assembly said in a statement they have called on the ministers "to publicly speak out against the racism and violence directed towards Mi'kmaq community members."
They are also calling for more enforcement, the return of the seized traps and for the ministers to make clear to the public that "moderate livelihood is not an illegal fishery."
"Non-Indigenous fishers and citizens are putting the safety of our people at risk," Chief Terrance Paul of the assembly said in the release.
Jordan and Sack say they have asked their senior staff to begin discussions on management of the Sipekne'katik fishery.
Sack said Monday the fleet managed to salvage some of the traps that were abandoned when the lines were cut, but he is calling for donations of traps to replace the gear.
Sack also said an "operations post" will be established this week and that safety measures will be put in place to ensure that supporters, vessels and equipment are safe as high winds from Hurricane Teddy are expected on Tuesday.
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