A lobster processor in southwest Nova Scotia says he’s willing to buy lobster harvested under commercial licences held by the Sipekne’katik First Nation in part of the Bay of Fundy where the commercial season is open.
Bruce Gidney of Gidney Fisheries in Digby made the offer in response to Chief Mike Sack of Sipekne’katik, who has said buyers and suppliers won’t do business with the band amid ongoing tensions between Mi’kmaw and non-Indigenous commercial fishers.
“The chief said no one was interested,” said Gidney. “We weren’t contacted and neither were other buyers I’ve talked to.”
The Sipekne’katik band is sitting on 6,800 kilograms of lobster harvested by members under three commercial licences it holds in Lobster Fishing Area 35, or LFA 35. The commercial season opened there last week. It is the only area currently open to commercial fishing.
“We can’t sell our lobster,” Sack said Wednesday. “Everyone in the area has been told … if they take our lobster, they will boycott or be blacklisted.”
The First Nation launched a self-regulated lobster fishery in St. Marys Bay last month — 21 years after the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Donald Marshall Jr.
That landmark decision affirmed the Mi’kmaw right to earn a “moderate livelihood” from fishing. But opponents of the St. Marys Bay fishery say it should not operate outside the federally mandated commercial season.
‘Our company is willing to buy it’
Non-Indigenous commercial fishers who oppose the fishery have reacted with protests, blockades and, in some cases, violence. This week, the Sipekne’katik band obtained an injunction to protect its fishers and property, and prevent interference with its business operations in St. Marys Bay.
Gidney said he reached out to the band Thursday and issued a statement though the Coldwater Lobster Association, an inshore fishermen’s group in southwest Nova Scotia.
“Our company buys high-quality lobsters from many commercial lobster fishers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous,” said Gidney in the release.
“We want to assure Mr. Sack that if the legally fished Sipekne’katik communal licences from LFA 35 need to have a market for their catch, our company is willing to buy it.”
The band said it issued requests for proposals for the lobster and has not received any offers. On Thursday, Sack said he was aware of interest online but nothing had come together.
“Hopefully they will,” he said. “If not, we will figure out a way.”
In the meantime, Sipekne’katik has pulled its three commercial boats out of LFA 35 and moved them to Saulnierville in St. Marys Bay to support its moderate livelihood fishery. Eleven members have each received 50 lobster trap tags from the band.
Fishery illegal, says former officer
The fishery, however, remains controversial.
This week, a retired federal Fisheries and Oceans enforcement officer came forward to say regulations prohibit commercial fishing when the season is closed.
“This whole fishing operation that Chief Sack has instituted is illegal,” said Gary Hutchins.
Hutchins served as a DFO conservation and protection supervisor in Digby from 2010 to 2017, responsible for St. Marys Bay.
He said Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan should have stopped the fishery.
“She is sworn to uphold the Fisheries Act. And by allowing this fishery to continue in its current form, she is violating her own regulations,” he said.
“She has actually aided and abetted an illegal fishery. If it was anybody other than the minister, they’d be charged by now.”
When Sipekne’katik launched its moderate livelihood fishery on Sept. 17, Jordan issued a statement acknowledging the Mi’kmaw treaty right — but said the fishery required DFO regulation.
The minister’s office declined to respond to the retired officer’s criticism.
“The Mi’kmaq have a treaty right to fish, and this right was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada 21 years ago. We are currently reviewing fishery plans with First Nations in Nova Scotia, and our work is well underway,” her office said in a statement.
“Canadians want to see a long-term resolution, one that will ensure stability, sustainability, and peace across our fisheries. That is what we are working towards.”
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