Fishermen to haul traps in Nova Scotia Indigenous lobster fishery

Fishermen from Nova Scotia’s Sipekne’katik First Nation prepared to retrieve lobster traps Saturday as RCMP continued to patrol waters off the western part of the province.

Rhonda Knockwood, the First Nation’s director of operations, said fishermen planned to leave the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., to pick up traps that were set on Thursday. Boats were still being prepared for the task as of late Saturday afternoon.

“RCMP are here and are maintaining the peace,” said Knockwood. “They (fishermen) are going to go out to check what’s out there.”

Earlier in the week, some Indigenous fishermen had alleged that ropes securing some of their lobster traps had been cut. Knockwood said no traps were set on Friday.

She said Indigenous fishermen had set up a blockade of rope and lobster traps at each end of the wharf on Saturday.

“Security is really what we are trying to do. We’re just making sure we are containing ourselves within our little bubble here,” she said.

RCMP spokesman Sgt. Andrew Joyce said there were no incidents reported overnight Friday, and Mounties continued to patrol on the water and in the air.

Police arrested two people on assault charges at the wharf in Weymouth, N.S., on Friday, following reports of ugly confrontations over the First Nation’s lobster fishing operation.

Some non-Indigenous fishermen say they believe the Indigenous fishery is illegal because the regular fishing season is now closed. But the Sipekne’katik First Nation says its people have a treaty right to fish at any time.

Two Mi’kmaq Senators added their voice in support of the fishery on Saturday.

Senators Dan Christmas from Nova Scotia and Brian Francis from P.E.I. called on the federal government to respect the Supreme Court of Canada-affirmed treaty right of the Mi’kmaq to a moderate livelihood fishery.

“As Canada’s Mi’kmaw senators, we stand in solidarity with the Mi’kmaw chiefs and the Mi’kmaq negotiations team that the federal government will undertake meaningful consultation on this process to avoid harvesters’ treaty rights from being further infringed upon,” they said.

Christmas and Francis said a permanent solution is needed that moves beyond conditional access to the existing commercial fishery.

“It is time for the federal government to work with our communities, to uphold constitutionally entrenched and enshrined rights,” they said.

National chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, also voiced his support in a Facebook post on Friday.

Indigenous fishermen set their traps Thursday, 21 years after the Supreme Court of Canada decided Donald Marshall Jr. had a treaty right to fish for eels when and where he wanted – without a licence.

A clarification was issued two months later by the court, which said the treaty right was subject to federal regulation.

Non-Indigenous fishermen in western Nova Scotia say the court’s clarification is key to understanding why they oppose a self-regulated Indigenous lobster fishery that is not subject to federal regulations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2020.

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