The chief of the Eel Ground First Nation in northeastern New Brunswick says his members have resumed a treaty fishery for snow crab after growing frustrated with the pace of negotiations with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Chief George Ginnish says the federal department is not sufficiently committed to providing his people access to the fishery.
“Eel Ground is the only Mi’kmaq community in the gulf region that does not have access to any snow crab,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “It would be a good foundation on which to build an economy.”
Ginnish said low income levels in the community means many people have to depend on programs to provide breakfast and hot lunches for their children. He said people in his community, also known as Natoaganeg, have gone hungry while waiting decades to exercise their fishing rights.
In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed in what has become known as the Marshall decision that Mi’kmaq have a treaty right to hunt and fish for the purpose of trade and to earn a moderate livelihood.
“It’s been 20 years since Marshall, and we’re no closer to a moderate livelihood or the rebuilding of an Eel Ground economy than we were 20 years ago,” Ginnish said.
He said the band spent six months meeting with government officials and department staff without seeing results.
“We said if they can’t negotiate, and they can’t see that we have a treaty right and that we’re being treated unfairly, then we have to go out and fish,” he said.
The band council authorized a treaty fishery in May, but fisheries officers seized 31 traps. The fishery was suspended June 6 when Ottawa agreed to negotiations, but Ginnish said federal officials didn’t come to the table ready to address the issue in a meaningful way.
Another 15 traps were set Tuesday night, and Ginnish said he expects they will also be seized. He said there are only a few days left in the season, and Eel Ground is just trying to make a point.
Carole Saindon, senior media relations adviser with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said Wednesday that the department has been working in good faith with Eel Ground First Nation officials to come to an agreement on access to the snow crab fishery.
“Fisheries and Oceans Canada is aware of a possible unauthorized snow crab fishery in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence area. Fishery officers are investigating,” Saindon wrote in a statement. “We want to work with all harvesters to ensure that the Fishery Act is followed, and Indigenous fishing rights are respected.”
She said the government is committed to finding a solution that will provide Eel Ground with access to snow crab. No new negotiations are scheduled, but Ginnish said he’s ready to talk.
“They have my phone number, and so far they haven’t called,” he said.
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