By Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press on November 18, 2020.
HALIFAX – The chief of the First Nation at the centre of a lobster fishing dispute in Nova Scotia says the federal fisheries minister should resign because she appears unwilling to deal with the band’s challenges.
Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne’katik First Nation said Wednesday he hasn’t heard from Bernadette Jordan for a week, despite his best efforts to set up a meeting with her.
“If they want to break off talks with us, then we’ll take alternative routes,” Sack said in an interview. “If the minister is not willing to work with us, then maybe she should step down if she’s not capable of doing the job.”
First Nations in the Maritimes and eastern Quebec say a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling affirmed their right to hunt, fish and gather when and where they want to earn a “moderate livelihood.” But a subsequent clarification from the court said Ottawa retains the right to regulate the fisheries for conservation purposes.
Non-Indigenous lobster fishers have complained that the band’s self-regulated fishery in St. Marys Bay is illegal and should be shut down because the federally regulated lobster season in the area does not open until Nov. 30.
Meanwhile, Sack said he was frustrated by reports that federal fisheries officers have removed lobster traps from a bay in Cape Breton, where the Potlotek First Nation started its own moderate livelihood fishery on Oct. 1.
“It annoys me when the (Department of Fishers and Oceans) in Cape Breton is hauling out our brothers’ and sisters’ traps,” Sack said. “They started doing that after they stopped answering the phone for us.”
The chief also said he is concerned that Jordan, who represents a riding in southwestern Nova Scotia, may be giving in to pressure from the commercial lobster fishing industry. “I feel that someone else should be looking after the fisheries,” he said.
Jordan could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
On another front, Sack shrugged off published reports suggesting he had threatened to disrupt the commercial lobster fishery in a vast zone known as Lobster Fishing Area 34, which opens for fishing on Nov. 30.
Sack said he wanted federal fisheries officers to stop the fishing because the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia never consented to the commercial fishery in the first place.
“If they prevent us from fishing, they should prevent them from fishing,” he said. “We’re looking to put this to rest. If our talks don’t go the way they’re supposed to, then we’ll be looking at alternative solutions.”
Earlier in the day, Sack issued a statement confirming the Sipekne’katik band had landed 100,000 pounds of lobster since it started its moderate livelihood fishery on Sept. 17 in St. Marys Bay, which is part of Lobster Fishing Area 34. That represents a tiny fraction of what commercial fishing boats will haul in from the zone.
A total of 990 licensed commercial fishing boats working in LFA 34 are expected to trap 90 million pounds of lobster between Nov. 30 and May 31, with each boat carrying between 375 and 400 traps.
The chief said the numbers make it clear that the band’s moderate livelihood fishery does not pose a threat to conservation of lobster stocks.
“I want people to know that what we caught is equivalent to what one commercial licence is going to catch, and there’s 990 going to be out there fishing in a couple of weeks time,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2020