An industry association representing lobster pounds and processors has declared its opposition to Mi'kmaw fishermen catching lobster outside the federally regulated commercial season as part of a moderate livelihood fishery.
The Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance said it supports the treaty right, but it must be subordinate to limits set and policed by the government of Canada.
"Very clearly we're of the position that fishing should take place within the regulated seasons that have been established over the years," alliance president Osborne Burke told CBC News.
Industry says conservation at stake
The industry does not accept assertions from academics and the Mi'kmaq that moderate livelihood fisheries are too small to pose a conservation risk to stocks.
Burke said commercial seasons are closed to protect moulting and hungry lobsters, which are easier to catch in large numbers.
Relatively few traps can land an outsized amount of lobster, he said.
"There's a reason why those seasons were established by science, by DFO, and by harvesters to protect a stock when they're vulnerable," he said. "I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that."
The interview with CBC News was the first time the industry declared its position on the Mi'kmaw fishery.
DFO minister says fishery 'raises concerns'
It came on the same day the federal fisheries minister raised conservation concerns in St. Peters Bay, Cape Breton, where a moderate livelihood fishery was launched last month by the Potlotek band.
In a statement, Bernadette Jordan said fishing activities have increased significantly in the area.
"The scale and operation of current activities is even in excess of First Nation moderate livelihood fishing proposals," the minister said.
"When there is a high concentration of traps in a particular area, it raises concerns regarding localized impacts to the stock."
CBC News was unable to reach spokespersons for Potlotek.
Burke said the situation in St. Peters Bay shows what can happen in an unregulated fishery.
"What was originally intended to be fished in the number of gear and the number of vessels quickly exceeded what was originally discussed with harvesters, and that led to even further frustrations within the fishery," he said.
Not an industry decision, says activist
Mi'kmaw fishing activist Cheryl Maloney, who sold moderate livelihood lobster outside the Nova Scotia legislature this fall, said it's not up to industry to decide when First Nations in the region go fishing.
"The law is that the Mi'kmaq have won a treaty right to fish outside of DFO licensing and outside of the commercial season. That was won 21 years ago," the Sipekne'katik band member told CBC News.
She said the moderate livelihood fishery is a Pandora's box that opened Sept. 17 when her band launched the first one in St. Marys Bay.
She urged industry to get behind the fishery.
"We are your partners," said Maloney. "We live in the same communities with you now, we have an economy that we can grow and it can flourish, or the Mi'kmaq can make other partnerships with international partners."
Industry members urged to follow law
Rather than embrace the moderate livelihood fishery, the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance is warning members to stay away until the province changes its regulations.
The rules prohibit the purchase of seafood unless it is harvested with a DFO licence.
"It's illegal for Nova Scotia seafood buyers to operate outside the conditions of licence or to buy any seafood outside of regulated seasons, as stipulated and enforced by DFO and by provincial fisheries," said Burke, who is also general manager of Victoria Co-operative Fisheries, a multispecies processor and exporter in northern Cape Breton.
The alliance sent the same message to members in an Oct. 30 letter. It noted First Nation communities own hundreds of commercial licences.
"Many of our member companies purchase fresh seafood and live lobster successfully from commercially licensed Indigenous harvesters and have built strong working relationships over many years," the letter said.
Band threatens to sue province
Earlier in the week, Sipekne'katik threatened to sue the province over the law that prevents the purchase of lobster harvested by moderate livelihood licences issued and regulated by individual bands.
"If we can't sell because your law says no one can buy from us, that interferes with our moderate livelihood, which is our treaty right and our constitutional right," band lawyer Ron Pink told reporters Thursday.
Burke said the alliance believes the law is "where it needs to be."
"And beyond that, I guess it would be for the courts to decide otherwise," he said.
The industry waited weeks before publicly taking a stand.
It wanted tensions to subside and to distance itself from the violent reaction by some non-Indigenous commercial fishermen to the Sipekne'katik fishery.
"We do not approve or condone threatening behaviour of violence, destruction of property, vigilantism or racism of any type. And we don't feel that's reflective in Nova Scotia harvesters," said Burke.
Federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc in New Brunswick and P.E.I. MP Wayne Easter have suggested moderate livelihood fisheries should be integrated into commercial seasons.
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