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Nova Scotia First Nation expanding self regulated ‘treaty’ fishery in St. Marys Bay


August 16, 2021
By Canadian Press

Aug. 16, 2021 – Nova Scotia’s Sipekne’katik First Nation is expanding its self-regulated lobster fishery in St. Marys Bay, despite concerns from the federal government.

Chief Mike Sack made the announcement Monday at the Saulnierville Wharf in southwestern Nova Scotia. He said he expected Fisheries Department officers to pull some of his band’s traps out of the water because they aren’t licensed by Ottawa.

“There’s nothing we can do,” he told reporters gathered at the wharf. “If they take our traps, we’ll get more traps and we’ll fight them (the federal government) in court for the last ones taken.”

“It’s unfortunate they come in, push their weight around and do what they want and aren’t held accountable. For me, it’s systemic racism.”

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The community says it will operate under the guidelines of its own fisheries-management plan, which Sack has said is based on sound conservation principles.

Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan has said the First Nation’s unauthorized fishery is concerning and her department will enforce the Fisheries Act.

Sack said Monday his band, located 65 kilometres north of Halifax, issued 13 fishers with so-called “treaty fishery” licences for boats operating in the province’s southwest, adding that he expected up to 20 will participate with 50 traps each.

Last September, the band launched a self-regulated lobster fishery outside the federally regulated season, which led to violence and the burning of a lobster pound that stored Indigenous catch.

A 1999 Supreme Court decision allows Indigenous communities to fish for a moderate livelihood, though the court later clarified that Ottawa could regulate the treaty right for conservation and other limited purposes.

The Sipekne’katik band says it is no longer using the term “moderate livelihood fishery,” preferring “treaty fishery” instead.

“We’re treaty people, and we have a treaty right to fish, so that’s what we’re calling it,” Sack told reporters.

The First Nation had recently operated its food, social and ceremonial lobster fishery, which is regulated by Jordan’s department, but the fishery licence does not permit the sale of the catch.

Sack said during the news conference he’s pleased there is more police presence in the area, adding “hopefully it keeps everyone safe.”

Colin Sproul, a spokesman for the Unified Fisheries Conservation Alliance _ an advocacy group representing various non-Indigenous, commercial fishers and processors _ says the federal right to regulate remains a key part of Supreme Court of Canada decisions.

He says existing law and court rulings make clear that Ottawa has the power to enforce regulations to prevent out-of-season fishing by Indigenous groups.

“From our members’ perspective the enforcement that’s taking place is a token of what needs to take place,” he said Monday in a telephone interview. “It is a pittance compared to the size of the commercial fishing effort that’s happening illegally outside of the commercial seasons.”

Sproul said his group advocates for a peaceful resolution to the contentious issue and urges fishers to avoid any violence or illegal actions.

But the mood in the small communities surrounding St. Marys Bay is one of deepening frustration about the expansion of the non-regulated fishery, he said.

“Our first reaction is shock that events have been allowed to snowball as they are ? while it’s important the minister has made it clear that it’s illegal to fish commercially outside of commercial seasons, it needs to be coupled with enforcement,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2021.


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