The Mi'kmaw community in Nova Scotia that recently launched its first self-regulated lobster fishery is now pushing the province to change laws restricting non-Indigenous fish buyers from doing business with the First Nation.
Sipekne'katik First Nation introduced its Trade and Transport regulations today for Mi'kmaw fishers to legally sell seafood harvested under the right-based fishery to Mi'kmaw and non-Indigenous consumers and seafood wholesalers.
"It's a big step forward for us to support our Mi'kmaw fishers," said Sipekne'katik Chief Michael Sack.
"We already gave up 21 years of lost income, the betterment of life for our people. At this point in time, we're not here to negotiate. We're just here to make our plan official and get moving and growing in the lobster industry."
According to the Fish Buyers' Licensing and Enforcement Regulations, under the N.S. Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act, it is prohibited for anyone in Nova Scotia to buy fish from "a person who does not hold a valid commercial fishing licence issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada."
Sack said the regulations are a "direct infringement" on rights of both Mi'kmaq and non-Indigenous people in Nova Scotia, and must be amended to "reflect the current constitutional laws in Canada."
The community sent a letter to Nova Scotia Premier Stephen MacNeil and Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Keith Colwell calling for the government to meet with Sipekne'katik officials and discuss remedying the situation, but there is confusion over which level of government has jurisdiction.
Questions from CBC News to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] on the Mi'kmaw proposal were directed to the provincial government.
In an emailed statement, the N.S. department of Fisheries and Aquaculture said the regulations "rely on DFO's authority and responsibility to manage the fishery and identify what are legal, licensed fisheries."
"We encourage the federal government and Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia to continue this important dialogue about what constitutes a moderate livelihood fishery," the statement reads.
Sack said Mi'kmaw leaders in N.S. are expected to meet with DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan next week to continue discussions about the fishery, and a spokesperson for Jordan said the jurisdictional issues will be addressed.
No market for Mi'kmaw lobster
While Sipekne'katik is willing to work with seafood buyers from the existing commercial fishing industry, Sack said, until an agreement is reached with governments, there are few places for Mi'kmaq to sell their lobster.
Commercial seafood buyers in Nova Scotia declined to speak with CBC News. Luc Leblanc, a spokesperson for the Maritime Fishermen's Union, did not respond to a request for comment.
"We're a little bit stuck at the moment," Sack said.
"We're looking for the government to work with us, and if they don't we'll take a different approach."
Sipekne'katik is already preparing to set up a retail store on reserve land near Halifax, Sack said, and if the Mi'kmaq are unable to establish a new market for their fishers they will prepare to establish their own seafood industry.
"Our community will benefit big time from a processing plant … packaging seafood, branding it with our own name, and sending it across the world."
Sipekne'katik's frustration around the inability for non-Indigenous consumers to buy the lobster is mirrored by the Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation in Quebec, which is in its second year of similar self-regulated fishery.
Listuguj Chief Darcy Gray takes issue with DFO's refusal to issue licence conditions consistent with their fishery management plan, which allows a small commercial aspect to the fall fishery that otherwise would only be for food, social and ceremonial purposes.