Potlotek, DFO agree on first authorized moderate livelihood fishery

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Potlotek First Nation Chief Wilbert Marshall says his band's fishery plan will include enforcement protocols authorized by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. (CBC - image credit)
Potlotek First Nation Chief Wilbert Marshall says his band's fishery plan will include enforcement protocols authorized by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. (CBC - image credit)

The Potlotek First Nation and Ottawa have reached an understanding that will allow Nova Scotia's first authorized moderate livelihood fishery to go ahead.

Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall said harvesters will head out on the water starting Saturday.

"We built a solid plan that laid out our tagging and reporting structures, and are developing enforcement protocols with DFO's conservation and protection branch," Marshall said Friday in a news release.

In a statement, federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said Potlotek has been authorized to fish up to 700 commercial lobster traps.

Both sides said it is an interim measure that will allow Potlotek harvesters to fish this season, but consultation will continue on a long-term agreement.

"This marks an important step forward that demonstrates Canada's willingness to listen to the individual needs of communities, to support their vision and find common ground that maintains a sustainable fishery and sees community members on the water and able to sell their catch," Jordan said.

Potlotek working on fisheries plan

Marshall said the authorized fishery is possible because Potlotek has been working on a plan that will help manage the resource and protect the community's constitutional right to fish for a living under the Mi'kmaw principle of netukulimk — using natural resources for the benefit of individuals and the community without harming the environment.

Jordan was unavailable for comment, but the Maritimes regional director general said the Mi'kmaw fishery will not affect conservation levels.

Doug Wentzell said the lobster stocks in lobster fishing areas 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31a are healthy, and Potlotek's traps will be fished under existing licences and seasons in those areas.

"We are going to be providing the access ... based on what we have currently available in banked licences that have been obtained through program funds and not fished, as well as the additional purchase of licences, so we are not looking to add effort in those lobster fishing areas," he said.

Future agreements

The lobster fishing season ends at the end of this month in LFA 29 and mid-July in the other areas, all of which follow the Atlantic coast around Cape Breton.

Wentzell said the department is hopeful that the understanding with Potlotek will lead to similar arrangements with other First Nations in Nova Scotia.

The authorized fishery is significant because until now, the federal government has been enforcing fishing seasons and has seized traps from bands including Potlotek.

The effort to establish moderate livelihood fisheries in Nova Scotia has also led to violence.

DFO has struck rights and reconciliation agreements for moderate livelihood fisheries in New Brunswick and Quebec, but they are typically for at least five years.

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