FREDERICTON — Indigenous chiefs in New Brunswick say the federal Fisheries Department is preventing members of the St. Mary's First Nation from feeding their families, after officers last week seized a lobster fishing boat operating in the Bay of Fundy.
Canada is ignoring Indigenous rights to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes and to a livelihood fishery, the six chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation said Wednesday in a news release.
"St. Mary's First Nation members are being prevented from feeding their families by DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) enforcement, and at the same time DFO seems intent on escalating the situation," the chiefs wrote. "This is creating dangerous conditions for everyone on the water."
The chiefs said federal officers seized a 20-foot-long lobster fishing boat in the Bay of Fundy operated by members of St. Mary's First Nation in Fredericton.
"The chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick are calling on representatives of DFO to take immediate steps to ensure that the basic needs of First Nations members can be met in accordance with the Aboriginal rights of the Wolastoqiyik and the Peace and Friendship Treaties, which have been in place since before the Confederation of Canada," they wrote.
St. Mary's Chief Allan Polchies says his members have been fishing for lobster in the Bay of Fundy since late July and have been harassed by fisheries officers.
"They haven't released the boat yet," Polchies said in an interview Wednesday. "Because of the (federal) election right now they are trying to use every tactic they can to buy time to keep the Indigenous Wolastoqey people from fishing."
In an emailed statement, Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed the seizure of the boat and said two people were arrested for alleged violations under the Fisheries Act. The department said that part of the bay, known as area 36, is open for fishing from the second Tuesday in November to Jan. 14 and from March 31 to July 9.
"Any fishing taking place without a licence or in contravention of a licence issued by the department is considered unauthorized, and is subject to enforcement action. As this matter is part of an ongoing investigation, no further comment will be provided," spokesperson Heidi MacDonald said.
St. Mary’s First Nation, she added, was issued a 2021 Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licence by the department, which she said authorizes communal harvesting for food, social and ceremonial purposes, including for lobster in area 36.
But Polchies said it's not enough to feed his community.
"We are asking DFO to give us more fishery tags to allow us to do that and buy us some time until we put our management plan together," he said. "Right now, for a population of 2,000 members, I have 20 tags. I couldn't feed my whole community on what DFO is giving us."
Polchies would not say what his community's next steps would be, but he said he expected the situation to escalate.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2021.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press