Eskasoni chief is looking at legal options after DFO announces plan for moderate livelihood fisheries

·2 min read

SYDNEY — The chief of Nova Scotia's largest First Nations community says the federal announcement regarding the upcoming fishing season took him by surprise.

On Wednesday, Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Minister Bernadette Jordan announced that effective immediately, any fishing by moderate livelihood fisheries will need to take place during the existing commercial season.

Jordan also stated that these fisheries will be regulated through licences issued by her department. Jordan says these licences will provide an opportunity for First Nations harvesters to sell their catch legally and earn a moderate livelihood and will also prioritize conservation to ensure that lobster stocks remain healthy.

Eskasoni First Nation Chief Leroy Denny says the government failed to conduct the necessary consultation with his community and that the government's plan is a unilateral decision.

"The federal government is fully aware that such a requirement will be a direct infringement on our constitutional treaty rights, and as such, will require the federal government to legally justify such an infringement," Denny said.

Denny says the community is making plans for its own fishery and will hire two coordinators to develop the plan for the spring.

Jibby Paul is from Eskasoni and has been fishing for over 20 years. He says this decision is an infringement of his treaty rights.

"It negates my right to go fishing and make a moderate livelihood, to exercise my right 365 days of the year," said Paul.

Paul owns four fishing boats that he purchased to share with his children. He's worried that there won't be enough licences to go around.

"It's a compromise but it's a limited compromise because not everybody is going to benefit from it. There are 4,000 people in my community and poverty is an issue and they're going to give us five or six licences? It's a slap in the face."

Paul says he and other fishers from Eskasoni joined Potlotek First Nation when they launched their moderate livelihood fishery this past October, the first of its kind in Cape Breton.

Since then, Membertou and Eskasoni have announced their intention to put boats in the water in the coming months.

Chief Denny says he will be following up with the federal government and exploring legal options with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs.

Ardelle Reynolds, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post