The chief of Nova Scotia's Membertou First Nation says the sentence handed down Wednesday to a lobster fisherman who cut band traps is too lenient.
"It is discouraging to know that those who create unrest and friction go forward without meaningful consequences," Chief Terry Paul said in a statement to CBC News on Thursday.
Commercial lobster fisherman Bernard Douglas MacIntryre was fined $6,200 and ordered off the water for six months after he pleaded guilty to obstructing fishery officers and cutting traps belonging to the Membertou First Nation.
Membertou members were legally fishing under a food, social and ceremonial (FSC) lobster licence at the time of the incident, which occurred the night of Dec. 3, 2020, in Sydney Harbour.
While MacIntyre has been ordered off the water for six months — from July 25, 2023, to January 2024 during the Membertou FSC fishery — it won't affect his own lobster fishing.
The ban will affect his ground fishing.
"With sentences like these, there is no deterrent for those who cause us damage and harm," Paul said in the statement.
What happened that night
The sentence delivered in a Sydney courtroom was a joint recommendation from Crown and defence lawyers and accepted by provincial court Judge Diane McGrath.
Federal Crown prosecutor Max Kruger told the court the "blatant and overt attempt" to interfere with Membertou's FSC fishery was a serious offence and the sentence reflected that.
According to an agreed statement of facts, MacIntyre's vessel Kelsey & Mitchell II set out from the Ballast Grounds Wharf in North Sydney shortly after 9 p.m., when upwards of 60 people had gathered and between 30 and 40 vehicles were parked.
MacIntyre steamed toward an area where 32 food, social and ceremonial lobster traps had been set earlier in the day by a Membertou fisherman.
Fishery officers saw five lobster traps being hauled onboard the Kelsey & Mitchell II, being cut and dropped back into the water. Still shots from video taken at the time clearly show a telltale magenta-coloured food, social and ceremonial tag in one instance.
When confronted by fishery officers on the water, MacIntyre ignored repeated orders to stop and steamed back to the wharf.
'Something needs to be done'
Officers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) did not pursue, citing safety concerns because of the large congregation onshore and number of people on board MacIntyre's boat. Officers watching the wharf noted that the entrance had been blocked by vehicles.
MacIntyre was arrested the next day at his home.
The Membertou First Nation has complained for years that its traps were being cut.
In 2019, one of their fishing boats was torched while tied up in Westmount, Cape Breton.
"As Mi'kmaq, we have a right to the FSC fishery and something needs to be done to protect that right. Without proper enforcement and education, it is difficult to understand how positive change can happen on the water," Paul said in the statement.
In a Facebook post on the case on Thursday, DFO said: "Damage or destruction of gear and interference with lawful fishing are illegal, cause debris that harms fish and fish habitat, and may result in a fine of up to $100,000 for violations of the Fisheries Act."
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