Members of the Potlotek First Nation, head out into St. Peters Bay from the wharf in St. Peter’s, N.S. as they participate in a self-regulated commercial lobster fishery on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Andrew Vaughan

Members of the Potlotek First Nation, head out into St. Peters Bay from the wharf in St. Peter’s, N.S. as they participate in a self-regulated commercial lobster fishery on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Andrew Vaughan

5 things to know about the dispute over Nova Scotia’s Indigenous lobster fishery

Tensions remain high in the dispute over the Indigenous lobster fishery in Nova Scotia

Tensions remain high in the dispute over the Indigenous lobster fishery in Nova Scotia. Here are five things to know about the situation.

1. The dispute has a long history.

In September 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the treaty rights of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy bands in Eastern Canada to hunt, fish and gather to earn a “moderate livelihood.”

The court decided that a Mi’kmaq fisherman from Cape Breton, Donald Marshall Jr., had the right to fish for eels and sell them when and where he wanted — without a licence.

That ruling was based on the interpretation of the Peace and Friendship Treaties approved by the British Crown in 1760 and 1761, which describe long-standing promises, obligations and benefits for the Crown.

The Supreme Court also said Marshall’s treaty rights were protected by the Constitution. However, the court said those rights are limited to securing “necessaries” and do not extend to the “open-ended accumulation of wealth.”

2. The Supreme Court of Canada clarified its ruling and muddied the waters.

Two months after the Marshall decision, the Supreme Court provided a clarification that remains at the heart of the current dispute in Nova Scotia.

The court stated that the constitutionally protected treaty rights cited in the first decision were not unlimited, and the Indigenous fisheries could be regulated.

The court, however, also said those regulations had to be justified for conservation or other important public objectives.

That key caveat is often cited by non-Indigenous commercial fishermen who say they would have no problem with a separate, Indigenous commercial lobster fishery, so long as it complied with federally regulated seasons.

When the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched its self-regulated lobster fishery on St. Marys Bay on Sept. 17, the federally regulated fishing season in that area had been closed since May 31, and it doesn’t reopen until Nov. 30.

3. The federal government has reached fishing agreements with other First Nations in the region.

After the Marshall decision spelled out the extent of treaty rights in 1999, some First Nations started fishing for lobster right away, prompting a backlash from non-Indigenous protesters.

The Mi’kmaq communities at Burnt Church in New Brunswick and Indian Brook in Nova Scotia — now known as Sipekne’katik — defied federal authorities and set traps outside the regulated season.

That led to the seizure of traps, arrests, charges, collisions on the water, shots fired at night, boat sinkings, injuries and threats of retribution.

At the time, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans assumed an aggressive posture on the water, where DFO boats were spotted ramming Mi’kmaq boats from Burnt Church.

Despite an ugly start, the federal government eventually started helping First Nations build their communal commercial fishing fleets. Between 2007 and 2015, the value of communal commercial landings rose from $66 million to $145 million for the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations.

And in 2019, Fisheries and Oceans Canada signed two 10-year Rights Reconciliation Agreements with the Elsipogtog (Big Cove) and Esgenoopetitj (Burnt Church) First Nations in New Brunswick, and the Maliseet of Viger First Nation in Quebec.

4. Most Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia say they aren’t interested in selling out their treaty rights.

Bruce Wildsmith, legal counsel for the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative, has said the 2019 agreements don’t meet First Nations’ requirements for a licensed moderate livelihood fishery, which he sees as separate and distinct from a regular commercial fishery.

These agreements require Indigenous fishers to adhere to federal regulations, including restrictions on when fishing can take place.

Wildsmith, who represented Marshall before the Supreme Court, says the Mi’kmaq want a moderate livelihood fishery based on separate consultations with the federal government. The fishery would have its own set of regulations based on nation-to-nation agreements that have yet to be drafted, despite years of talks.

5. Conservation of the lobster stocks is central to the debate in Nova Scotia.

Some commercial fishermen have argued that lobster fishing should not be permitted at this time of year because lobsters moult — shedding their undersized shells — in the mid-summer months, which is also when female lobsters can mate.

The Sipekne’katik First Nation, however, has insisted that its fisheries management plan ensures conservation of the lobster stocks, noting that fishing didn’t start until Sept. 17. The First Nation has already submitted a fisheries management plan to Ottawa.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Qualicum Beach resident Harold MacDougall won $75,000 off a Casino Royale II Scratch & Win ticket, purchased the ticket at Qualicum Foods on Memorial Avenue. (BCLC photo)
Qualicum Beach man $75K richer thanks to scratch-and-win ticket windfall

MacDougall plans on trips to Cape Breton and Scotland

The property at 113 and 161 Island Highway is currently being dismantled as the developer attempts to salvage ‘usable’ lumber for their development application to the City of Parksville. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Development application delayed for high-profile Parksville property

Council refers application to staff for further improvements

(File photo)
RCMP warn of counterfeit bill use in Parksville Qualicum Beach area

Police have received four calls in November regarding bogus bills

The COVID-19 pandemic had an effect on film production on central and north Vancouver Island, says Vancouver Island North Film Commission. Pictured here, production of TV series Resident Alien in Ladysmith earlier this year. (Black Press file)
Film commissioner says COVID-19 cost central Island $6 million in economic activity

Jurassic World: Dominion, Chesapeake Shores among productions halted due to pandemic, says INFilm

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks along the seawall in North Vancouver Wednesday, November 25, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
911 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths as B.C. sees deadliest week since pandemic began

Hospitalizations reach more than 300 across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

Penny Hart is emotional outside the Saanich Police Department as she pleads for helpt to find her son Sean Hart last seen Nov. 6 at a health institution in Saanich. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: Mother of missing Saanich man begs public to help find her son

Sean Hart last seen leaving Saanich mental health facility Nov. 6

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Most Read