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N.S. Mi'kmaq fisher says his movements are being watched and his traps seized by DFO

ST. PETER’S — A Mi’kmaq fisher in Cape Breton is the latest Indigenous fisher to suggest Ottawa appears intent on removing any First Nation’s lobster traps that aren’t approved by the federal Fisheries Department.

Craig Doucette, a lobster fisher from Potlotek First Nation, estimates officers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have seized about 40 of his lobster traps in St. Peter’s Bay since May 10.

Doucette said today in an interview he feels his actions are being watched because enforcement officers quickly seize his traps soon after he sets them.

He argues he is legally permitted to fish without a federal licence as a result of a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision affirming the Mi’kmaq treaty right to fish for a “moderate livelihood.” 

The decision was later clarified by the court, which said the government can regulate that treaty right for conservation and other limited purposes.

Last month, Indigenous lobster fisher Robert Syliboy of Sipekne’katik First Nation had two of his crab traps seized off Sherbrooke, N.S., and he too said he felt federal enforcement has become more aggressive than it was the prior season.

Syliboy has said the crab he wanted to harvest was solely for a community feast and that he didn’t need Ottawa’s permission to fish.

Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan has said Ottawa has the right to enforce federal regulations in connection with moderate livelihood fisheries, and that Indigenous fishers need to have a federal licence this season. 

Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack has announced his band intends to relaunch a fishery in St. Marys Bay starting in June — outside the federal commercial season and without federal licences. That decision means his community’s fishers could also have their traps and gear removed.

Last fall, tensions erupted after Sipekne’katik launched a self-governed fishery and members of the band encountered violence from non-Indigenous residents, resulting in the destruction of a lobster pound and the burning of a band member’s van in southwestern Nova Scotia.

Doucette, whose band is located 77 kilometres south of Sydney, N.S., said he doesn’t intend to stop fishing. The band has launched a civil action in Nova Scotia Supreme Court to force Ottawa to stop seizing Doucette’s traps and other traps from the community.

Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall has said the seizures reflect a failure of the federal government to uphold treaty rights.

— By Michael Tutton in Halifax.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2021.

The Canadian Press