Several hundred fishermen protested Thursday in Bridgewater, N.S., outside the constituency office of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan, demanding her department stop out-of-season commercial lobster harvesting and sales by First Nations in Nova Scotia.
"We are tired of being ignored over and over again," organizer Colin Sproul of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association told the crowd through a bullhorn from the back of a pickup truck.
"The Trudeau government has shown zero respect for the fishery laws that protect your families' futures. That cannot go on any longer."
The protest is over what fishermen say is a blatant abuse of a First Nations communal lobster fishery underway in St. Marys Bay.
'It's not fair'
The summer season is closed to commercial fishing but open to an Indigenous food, social and ceremonial fishery, which does not allow the catch to be sold.
The fishermen say thousands of kilograms of lobster are being landed every day by Indigenous fishermen and resold.
Under federal fishery regulations, no sales are allowed in an area when the commercial season is closed.
"It's not fair to licence holders," says fisherman Leonard Connors, who travelled from Sheet Harbour.
"I'm here to support making regulations fair for everybody in Nova Scotia, and for the country really," he said.
Negotiator rejects fishermen's objections
Mi'kmaq negotiator Viola Robinson rejected the fishermen's objections Thursday, saying First Nations' "constitutionally affirmed rights can be exercised outside of government-imposed fishing seasons."
In the 1999 Marshall decision, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the right of First Nations to fish for a moderate livelihood. It later clarified the ruling, saying the fishery must be regulated for conservation.
Twenty-one years later, only three bands — two in New Brunswick and one in Quebec — have agreed on terms with DFO on the rules for a moderate livelihood fishery. "We are creating a Mi'kmaq Netukulimk Livelihood fishery, distinctive on its own, to support as many of individual Mi'kmaw harvesters and those wanting to be involved with this fishery, as possible," Robison said in a statement. "It's been over 20 years since the Marshall decision, and it is beyond time for our people to be able to create sustainable livelihoods, all the while maintaining a sustainable resource for future generations."
Recent court verdict
Less than 20 hours before the protest, the owner of a lobster pound in St. Marys Bay was convicted in Digby provincial court of illegally selling lobster harvested by fishermen from the Sipekne'katik band in 2017, under their food, social and ceremonial licence.
The case involved thousands of kilograms of lobster intercepted before loading onto a flight for China.
The protesting fishermen said nothing has changed since then and illegal sales continue to this day.
West Nova Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont represents the St Marys Bay area in the House of Commons. "I'm hearing stories that are straight out of a TV show of drugs, money laundering and intimidation that's going on. And that that cannot be acceptable in any world," d'Entremont told CBC News.
"I just think DFO should be doing a better job of the investigation. They should be allowed to investigate because it really sounds [like] the political masters in Ottawa are not allowing the investigation to go forward. And I really don't know why."
Minister releases statement
Later on Thursday, in Meteghan, trucks owned by some local buyers surrounded and blocked the local offices of DFO.
The protest outside the constituency office was peaceful and respectful. The minister did not make an appearance.
She did release a statement later saying she takes all allegations of illegal fishing very seriously.
"The DFO Fisheries Management and Conservation & Protection (C&P) teams have been alerted to reports of illegal fishing in certain areas of Nova Scotia," she said.
"As a reminder, we cannot comment on active investigations. However, when an investigation concludes that there are reasonable, probable grounds to pursue charges, C&P works with the Public Prosecution Services of Canada to bring cases to trial. This year, actions have been taken to remove illegal fishing gear and investigations are ongoing."