Indigenous Lobster Fishery Presses Ahead Despite Confrontations in Nova Scotia

October 15, 2020 Updated: October 15, 2020

DIGBY, N.S.—A First Nations chief in Nova Scotia says his band’s self-regulated lobster fishery will press ahead despite opposition from non-Indigenous commercial fishers that erupted in threats and violence this week.

Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne’katik First Nation is holding a news conference in Digby, N.S., today after angry mobs damaged two facilities that handle lobster catches from Mi’kmaq fishers.

RCMP have confirmed that about 200 people were present at two violent clashes Tuesday outside lobster pounds in New Edinburgh and Middle West Pubnico.

The non-Indigenous protesters say they are opposed to the Mi’kmaq’s decision to start a commercial lobster fishing business that has operated outside the federally regulated lobster season since mid-September.

Sack argues Indigenous people in Atlantic Canada and Quebec have a treaty right to fish where and when they want, based on a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision that cites treaties signed by the Crown in the 1700s.

Many non-Indigenous critics, however, cite a clarification issued four months after the 1999 ruling stating the Mi’kmaq’s treaty rights would be subject to federal regulations to ensure conservation of the resource.

The chief is asking his people not to react to the latest incidents and to avoid violence, saying he wants them “to take the high road.”

The RCMP confirmed Thursday they had increased the number of officers in the area following the violent incidents on Tuesday night.

However, RCMP Sgt. Andrew Joyce said he couldn’t comment on reports circulating on social media suggesting there were more confrontations in New Edinburgh late Wednesday, though he did say no arrests were made.

“What we’re hoping for is a peaceful resolution to this very important issue,” Joyce said in an interview. “For me to speculate . . . how long [the RCMP] will remain [in New Edinburgh]. I certainly don’t want to go down that road.”

Meanwhile, Sack issued a statement Thursday saying his council opposes a plan by a Mi’kmaq activist to sell “livelihood lobster” outside the Nova Scotia legislature on Friday.

“We do not support this activity in the midst of the progress our moderate livelihood fishery has made to date,” Sack said in a statement.

“These types of activities have the potential to reverse our efforts, and therefore we ask that community members not participate in this unsanctioned sale of treaty lobster.”

Cheryl Maloney, a former president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, said Thursday the event would be used to draw attention to the fact that provincial regulations prevent the sale of seafood caught by people who do not hold a valid commercial fishing license.

“This provision is unconstitutional since it excludes Mi’kmaq from selling lawfully caught fish under the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760−1761 and represents an infringement of their right to a livelihood, as affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada,” Maloney said in the statement.

“Without access to a market to sell and trade treaty fish, Mi’kmaq cannot sustain themselves, their families, or their communities, and Section 35 of the Constitution affirming the inherent and treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples is negated.”

Maloney said the provincial regulations must be changed to reflect the rights affirmed in the Supreme Court decision.

By Michael Tutton