Federal minister says strike hampering enforcement of baby eel fishery closure

·1 min read

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's representative in the federal cabinet says the public service strike has made it difficult for Ottawa to enforce conservation rules for the highly contentious and lucrative baby eel fishery.

Sean Fraser, the federal immigration minister, says officers with the federal Fisheries Department, who went on strike April 19, are not required to enforce a recently imposed moratorium on eel fishing because that duty is not considered an essential service during the work stoppage.

On April 15, the Fisheries Department closed the fishery for 45 days because of alleged poaching and reports of violence among harvesters.

Fraser, who represents the Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova, says the essential services role of fisheries officers is limited to situations where a person's life is at risk or something of a similar scale.

The minister says the RCMP or local police should be called if there is violence on the water.

Some licence-holders in the fishery have been sending photos to the Fisheries Department that allegedly show people recently fishing for baby eels — also known as elvers — despite the temporary ban.

Advocates for Indigenous treaty rights, however, say it would be wrong to say Indigenous fishers are carrying out an illegal fishery because they have a treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood.

The tiny eels are fished at night in tidal rivers in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick each spring as they migrate inland from the ocean, with prices last year reaching $5,000 a kilogram.

They are typically sold live to buyers in Asia, where they are grown for food.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2023.

The Canadian Press