The federal fisheries minister says she's concerned about the sustainability of lobster fishing in part of Nova Scotia where Mi'kmaw fishers launched a rights-based fishery six weeks ago.
"Lobster stocks are generally healthy, [but] monitoring has recently indicated that fishing activities have significantly increased in St. Peters Bay," Bernadette Jordan said in a statement issued Friday.
"The scale and operation of current activities is even in excess of First Nation moderate livelihood fishing proposals. When there is a high concentration of traps in a particular area, it raises concerns regarding localized impacts of the stock."
But Chief Wilbert Marshall of Potlotek First Nation, which launched the fishery, told CBC News those concerns are baseless.
"I don't know where they're getting their information from," Marshall said.
Jordan did not include any numbers in her statement, but Marshall said he'd heard allegations of Potlotek fishing with as many as 3,000 traps. The head of one local fishermen's union told CBC last month there were more than 2,000 Mi'kmaw traps in St. Peters Bay.
Marshall said his band has fewer than 800 traps in the water, and Eskasoni — a neighbouring band that's also harvesting in the area — has around 400.
If anything, Marshall said, his band's fishery has gotten smaller since it launched on Oct. 1 because some of its traps have been seized — in his opinion unjustly — by DFO officials.
Even though he does not share in the concern that St. Peters Bay is being overfished, Marshall said he has still been encouraging fishers from his community to spread out to other parts of Cape Breton.
But he said they won't because they've received threats of violence and feel safer staying close together.
"I don't blame them, being scared," said Marshall.
While the moderate livelihood fishery in Cape Breton has been peaceful, so far, there have been violent confrontations in southwest Nova Scotia over Sipekne'katik's moderate livelihood fishery, and a lobster pound that had been storing Mi'kmaw catch was destroyed in a suspicious fire last month.
No concern over lobster stocks in southwest Nova Scotia
Non-Indigenous fishermen in Cape Breton have been voicing conservation concerns since Potlotek's fishery launched, but Jordan's statement this week marks her first acknowledgement of any potential conservation issues.
She has not, however, shared in the conservation concerns raised by some in the commercial fishing industry in other parts of the province.
Sipekne'katik's moderate livelihood fishery on St. Marys Bay has faced scrutiny for operating outside the federally regulated season. Independent scientists have said the operation poses no threat to conversation, and DFO maintains that lobster stocks in that area are healthy.
Jordan said her department is continuing to work with Mi'kmaw bands who are pursuing moderate livelihood fisheries.
"Together we will ensure that the right is implemented in a way that ensures safe, orderly and sustainable fishing," her statement said.
Marshall said he's scheduled to speak to Jordan on Monday.
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