Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq unified in opposition to moderate livelihood rules

·5 min read
Sipekne'katik fishers working on St. Marys Bay in November.  (CBC - image credit)
Sipekne'katik fishers working on St. Marys Bay in November. (CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw chiefs reacted in unified opposition Thursday to conditions set this week by the federal government for an Indigenous moderate livelihood fishery.

They say the terms required for Fisheries and Oceans authorization were imposed without adequate consultation or scientific justification.

"Our nation is shocked by what the minister said. For them to make a unilateral decision without consultation was extremely shocking," said Chief Gerald Toney, of the Annapolis Band, at a virtual news conference.

"We are frustrated. All 13 communities are very disappointed with what has taken place," said Chief Sidney Peters, of Glooscap First Nation.

Both were speaking on behalf of the Assembly of Mi'kmaw Chiefs.

Chief Gerald Toney says his nation was 'shocked' by the decision.
Chief Gerald Toney says his nation was 'shocked' by the decision.(CBC)

It's the latest development in the 21-year saga over moderate livelihood.

In 1999, the Supreme Court upheld the Mi'kmaw treaty right to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood but under federal government regulation for conservation.

Those rules have not been defined.

This week the department of Fisheries and Oceans publicly declared its principles to authorise a "small scale" moderate livelihood fishery.

In the Maritimes, bands already hold 2,377 of a total 11,500 commercial licences.

Mi'kmaw say prove it

On Thursday the chiefs challenged a key condition for approval of moderate livelihood: the fishery must take place within existing commercial seasons to protect stocks.

Bruce Wildsmith, a lawyer who has represented the Mi'kmaq for decades, says the department has yet to make the case in formal consultations — as required by the Supreme Court of Canada when a treaty right is limited.

"What evidence do you have? What is the science to justify why those seasons are the only way, the only times in which the Mi'kmaw can fish and respect conservation?" said Wildsmith during a virtual news conference.

Bruce Wildsmith, speaking during a virtual meeting, says the government hasn't provided justification for its decision.
Bruce Wildsmith, speaking during a virtual meeting, says the government hasn't provided justification for its decision.(CBC)

Many bands have completed or nearly completed their own fishery management plan for a moderate livelihood lobster fishery. The plans spell out the number of traps, season and other conditions for the fishery

The chiefs said Thursday their fishermen will pursue a moderate livelihood on their terms.

"The Mi'kmaw say this is the plan that we want to follow. If you think there's something wrong with that plan, you should tell us what it is, why we can't do what it is we propose to do," said Wildsmith.

Charting the course

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan said Thursday the conditions were a practical blueprint so bands could develop plans knowing what is required to secure a DFO licence for a moderate livelihood.

"What we've put in place is the ability for the authorization of a moderate livelihood fishery to take place. These are communities that can develop their own fishing plan for what works best for them and then be able to sell their catch," said Jordan.

She says DFO will enforce these rules.

"It's extremely important, for conservation reasons, to make sure that the moderate livelihood fishery also takes place during a season when lobsters are replenished, they're rested," she said.

"They're making sure that they have a top quality product. And for conservation purposes, we need to make sure that the species is sustainable for years to come."

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan says DFO will enforce the rules.
Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan says DFO will enforce the rules.(CBC)

Jordan said the Department's declaration was the result of eight months of talks with bands.

The Assembly of Chiefs revealed Thursday that a formal consultation between the Mi'kmaw and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was held on Tuesday and a second meeting is set for Friday. The consultation did not touch on the issue of conservation within existing seasons, Wildsmith said..

Commercial industry expresses relief

Jordan continued to receive praise Thursday from the commercial fishing industry.

"The government's commitment to a single regulated fishery is most certainly a step in the right direction. For over two decades there has been confusion, which has resulted in unnecessary tension and, regrettably, violence, within our communities," said Melanie Sonnenberg, president of the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation in a release.

"I think that it's a responsible and a really good path that the minister has set the government on to," said Colin Sproul, of the Unified Fisheries Conservation Alliance, representing fishermen across Nova Scotia.

He says DFO is carrying out its responsibility to manage the fishery for all.

"I truly believe that a lack of clarity from successive governments led to what happened last fall and that the minister's clarity in her decisions and in her statement yesterday can help to head all that off and prevent that this year," he said.

Violence erupts over the first moderate livelihood fishery

In southwest Nova Scotia, commercial fishermen erupted in fury — and in some cases violence — when the Sipekne'katik Band launched the first moderate livelihood lobster fishery in St Marys Bay last fall.

Tensions had been brewing there for years over the band's out of season summer lobster fishery in the Bay.

Under the cloak of a communal food, social and ceremonial fishery, some band members were selling their catch.

That is not permitted under the licence.

One court case revealed thousands of pounds were being sold to local lobster processors.

Sipekne'katik and other bands said they were fed up waiting for DFO to define a moderate livelihood fishery

Peace on the water or confrontation

On Thursday Mik'maw leaders did not commit to a court challenge of DFO's conditions, only to carrying out moderate livelihood fishing on their terms.

Bernadewtte Jordan was just as clear: that can only happen with DFO approval.

Chief Terry Paul of the Membertou Band — which recently purchased 50 per cent of Canadian seafood giant Clearwater Seafoods — is worried about what happens next.

"In this community we are going to continue to fish for our livelihood," he said. "And the fear, the greatest fear I have is someone getting hurt. And with the way the situation has been left and the decisions of the government, it makes it even more dangerous for us to be out there."