Skip to main content

Indigenous fishermen head from the harbour in Saulnierville, N.S. on Oct. 21, 2020.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Mi’kmaq chiefs in Nova Scotia say Ottawa’s new plan to address a conflict between Indigenous and commercial fishers is an attempt by government to control fishing rights that aren’t in its mandate.

The Mi’kmaq treaty right to fish shouldn’t be defined by industry or the federal government, Chief Gerald Toney of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs told a virtual news conference Thursday.

He said the plan released Wednesday by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan is unacceptable. “Minister Jordan once again made clear that she sees the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada having full control over rights-based fisheries,” Toney said.

He was reacting to a plan by Ottawa that would allow moderate livelihood fishing activity during the commercial season through licences issued under the Fisheries Act, though the total amount of fishing in the country’s waters wouldn’t increase.

Toney said the Mi’kmaq chiefs were also concerned about a lack of consultation by the Fisheries Department.

Nova Scotia Sen. Daniel Christmas shared a similar disagreement with the new plan, saying in a statement Thursday it’s untrue that moderate livelihood fisheries are cause for concern.

“There are currently 12,047 commercial licences in DFO’s Maritimes region, compared to only 472 licences held by First Nations,” Christmas said. “It’s difficult to conceive how such a ‘David and Goliath’ situation poses any sort of threat to conservation.”

Mi’kmaq fishers say a Supreme Court decision from 1999 affirms their right to fish for a “moderate livelihood” outside the federally regulated season. The assembly’s legal counsel, Bruce Wildsmith, told reporters Thursday the government failed to justify the use of the commercial season to restrict Mi’kmaq treaty rights.

Both the Sipekne’katik and Potlotek First Nations have launched lawsuits against the Nova Scotia government, saying existing regulations interfere with their treaty right to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood.

Sipekne’katik and Potlotek, among other Mi’kmaq bands, also launched self-regulated lobster fisheries late last year, igniting tensions with commercial fishers who argue harvesting outside the federally regulated season would be damaging to existing lobster stock.

Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell said the province’s regulations would likely have to be reviewed in the event of a deal between Ottawa and the First Nations over moderate livelihood fisheries. It is currently illegal to purchase unlicensed catch in the province.

“If it’s sanctioned by Ottawa and it’s a legitimate licence and meets all of the requirements that DFO has, I would think ... it’s very possible they (fishers) would be able to sell,” Colwell said.

He added that the province would “act accordingly” regarding its regulations if an agreement is reached. “Until that happens, I really can’t tell you what we would or wouldn’t do,” Colwell said.

With files from Keith Doucette

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Report an error