A lobster boat belonging to a Mi’kmaq fisher has been destroyed by a suspicious fire at a wharf in southwestern Nova Scotia, near waters where a self-regulated Indigenous fishery is under way.
RCMP Sergeant Andrew Joyce says police are investigating after a fire was reported by a wharf employee just before 6 a.m. Monday.
The police spokesman said the lobster boat had been tied to the wharf at Comeauville, N.S., for over six weeks awaiting a mechanical repair and suffered significant damage from the blaze.
Robert Syliboy, a member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation, confirmed in a telephone interview the 11-metre vessel belongs to him and was federally licensed to participate in the commercial fishery beginning next month.
He is among the 10 Mi’kmaq lobster harvesters who participated in the launch last month of a self-regulated fishery outside of the federally regulated season on St. Marys Bay. He was using a different boat out of Saulnierville, N.S., for that fishery, which allows boats to set a maximum of 50 traps each.
The fishery is based on the landmark 1999 Supreme Court ruling that found Donald Marshall Jr., a Mi’kmaq man, had a treaty right to fish for eels when and where he wanted, without a licence.
The Marshall decision also said the First Nations in Eastern Canada could fish to earn a “moderate livelihood,” though the court followed up with a clarification two months later saying the treaty right was subject to federal regulation.
Mr. Syliboy wrote on his Facebook page that he will find a way to rebuild his livelihood.
“My dad always taught me, it’s not about how many times you get knocked down, it’s about how fast you get back up,” he wrote. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll stand tall for my nation. This is part of the uphill battle.”
He said the boat that was burned is the one he operated under a communal commercial licence – a class of license negotiated with First Nations after the Marshall decision that requires Indigenous harvesters to operate under federal rules for conservation, gear marking and reporting of catch.
The tensions on St. Marys Bay were high in the first weeks of the Mi’kmaq moderate livelihood fishery, as non-Indigenous harvester cut lines and hauled 350 Mi’kmaq traps out of the water. It had appeared the situation had calmed before Monday’s incident.
Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, said his organization does not condone violence. “We condemn any and all violence in the fishery, and we call for calm and peace and dialogue,” he said.
Chris d’Entremont, the federal Conservative MP for West Nova, said on Friday that non-Indigenous fishers are looking for transparency regarding decisions made about the Mi’kmaq First Nation fishery, and there is growing frustration.
“I know there’s been conversations on the Indigenous side, but at this point there’s really very little discussion on the non-Indigenous side,” Mr. d’Entremont said in an interview.
He said the federal government has mismanaged talks and created a divide between the two groups, adding that since the Liberals came into government in 2015, non-Indigenous fishers have had a reduced presence in negotiations.
Non-Indigenous fishers are concerned about the financial impact of increased competition from Indigenous fishers, Mr. d’Entremont said, adding that current tensions could set relations back years.
“When the government talks about reconciliation, that’s going to put reconciliation in our area off by probably another generation right now, because there’s going to be that mistrust of both sides of this story, and I think it’s the fault of the government,” he said.
A federal Fisheries Department spokesperson said department officials and Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan have been in regular contact with industry leaders and representatives of Mi’kmaq communities.
The spokesperson declined to confirm how many meetings the department has had with the two groups but said talks are ongoing.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.