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

Vaccinations are set to resume in the small community of Tatchet, according to Lake Babine Nation’s Deputy Chief. (Black Press Media file photo)
Lake Babine Nation vaccine rollout resumes after a short pause

A COVID positive test within the care team had put the vaccinations on hold

Cheslatta Chief Corrina Leween received one of the COVID-19 vaccines on the Southside, on Wednesday, Jan. 13. (Submitted/Lakes District News)
COVID-19 vaccination begins in Burns Lake

Senior population, health care workers and First Nations among the first to get the vaccine

Sasquatch sighting. (Omineca Ski Club photo/Lakes District News)
Sasquatch on the loose at Omineca Ski Club

Head out to the trails to see if you can spot it; a tongue-in-cheek response from the club President

Two books in particular became quite popular at the start of the pandemic — Soap and Water Common Sense, The definitive guide to viruses’ bacteria, parasites, and disease and The Great Influenza, The story of the deadliest pandemic in history. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)
Burns Lake Public Library lent 20,916 books in 2020

Gained 67 new patrons throughout the year

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Williams Lake physician Dr. Ivan Scrooby and medical graduate student Vionarica Gusti hold up the COSMIC Bubble Helmet. Both are part of the non-profit organization COSMIC Medical which has come together to develop devices for treating patients with COVID-19. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Group of B.C. doctors, engineers developing ‘bubble helmet’ for COVID-19 patients

The helmet could support several patients at once, says the group

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)

Most Read