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N.S. Mi'kmaq to start season with scaled-down plans for fishery in St. Marys Bay

INDIAN BROOK, N.S. — A Mi’kmaq community is scaling down plans for a lobster harvest in southwestern Nova Scotia next week, after Ottawa threatened to pull traps that aren’t licensed by the Fisheries Department.

Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack told reporters today that instead of pursuing a “moderate livelihood” fishery with up to 50 traps per boat, Indigenous fishers will begin the season by pursuing a food, social and ceremonial fishery.

In a phone interview today, he said the ceremonial fishery in St. Marys Bay would be comprised of about “four or five” lobster traps per person on the boat, adding that the fishery is expected to expand later in the year.

On April 22, the band had announced that about 20 boats would fish out of Saulnierville, N.S., beginning in June, despite warnings from the federal government the traps would be seized.

Sack says the scaled-down fishery is authorized under food, social and ceremonial licences, where the Fisheries Department provides licences, or “tags,” that permit a small catch — provided the harvest is for food and ceremonies.

The chief, however, also says that fishers will be permitted by the band to sell a portion of their catch to pay for expenses.

The federal Fisheries Department wasn’t immediately available for comment about whether it will allow the scaled-down plan to proceed without enforcement officers seizing traps.

Earlier in the day, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said enforcement officers will be out “doing their job” if the Mi’kmaq First Nation proceeded with plans to return to St. Marys Bay off Nova Scotia next week without federal licences.

The Mi’kmaq First Nation has argued it has the right to fish for a “moderate livelihood” when and where members wish, based on a landmark 1999 Supreme Court decision. The court later clarified that ruling to say Ottawa could regulate the treaty right for conservation and other limited purposes.

Jordan also said during a news conference today in Lunenburg, N.S., that the non-Indigenous fishers shouldn’t consider “taking the law into their own hands” once Sipekne’katik First Nation resumes fishing off southwestern Nova Scotia.

After launching a self-governed fishery last fall, 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.

Since then, Jordan has noted her department unsuccessfully negotiated the distribution of commercial licences for Sipekne’katik within federally regulated fishing seasons.

She confirmed today that during talks, Ottawa had offered the band access to Lobster Fishing Area 35, south of St. Marys Bay, which is considered one of the best lobster grounds in the province, but the band rejected the offer.

Sack has said the area was difficult for his community’s fleet of smaller boats to navigate.

One veteran lobster licence broker in the Wedgeport, N.S., area, Troy Doucette, said in an interview today that recent sales of commercial licences in that area have ranged from $2.2 million to $2.6 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2021.

The Canadian Press