Hundreds of fishermen are expected to spend Thursday protesting outside Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) offices in southwest Nova Scotia in an effort to draw attention to problems they see with the lobster industry.
“This is a peaceful protest,” said Matthew Theriault, a spokesperson for the fishermen.
By 8 a.m., about 80 lobster fishermen had gathered outside the DFO office in Digby, N.S.
Similar protests were also scheduled to take place at government offices in Tusket, Meteghan and Barrington.
Theriault alleges fishing is still taking place, despite the fact the lobster season for Southwest Nova closed on June 1.
“There’s people…on the water and they’re fishing. The season is closed for commercial lobstermen,”said Theriault.
“We close out season for a reason. It’s so that we can let all the lobsters breed,” he said. “That’s when they shed their shell and they grow, double their size. So, it’s a really good conservation method.”
In response, the DFO says they are aware of the complaints from fishermen and that investigations are ongoing.
David Whorley, the DFO area director for southwestern Nova Scotia, says “enforcement activity has been busy” this year and that there are between 50 and 60 enforcement officers in the area.
“It’s clear that the protests are related to the food, social, ceremonial fishery that takes place in southwest Nova Scotia,” Whorley said.
“It’s established by aboriginal right, so it’s a rights-based fishery. That differs from a commercial fishery, which is privileged-based.”
A large sign at the Digby protest read in part, “Our issue is not with Aboriginal fishers. We respect their right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes. Our issue is with the Canadian government for not enforcing the laws that are in place for the protection and conservation of lobster stocks. We are asking for compliance and enforcement of the Fisheries Act and all conditions for the Indigenous fishers.”
Chief Michael Sack of Sipekne’katik First Nation says he respects the rights of the fishermen to voice their concerns but doesn’t agree with it.
“I know there’s been a lot of lobster coming to our community for food, social and ceremonial and if somebody decided to sell some lobster, they could sell it under the Marshall decision where we have a right to a moderate livelihood,” he said.
“I’m pretty certain we have all our bases covered.”
When asked who is fishing out of season, Theriault replied, “We don’t know who it is. That’s one of the things that needs to get checked into. There is a food fishery. Are these the people that are in the food fishery? I don’t know.”
Theriault says fishermen want to see the government enforce their own laws.
WATCH: Nova Scotia lobster community rebounds after fish plant fire
“There’s a law saying that there should be no sale or barter or trade of any lobster outside of commercial season and we feel, and we know, there is evidence that we can see plainly that that is happening,” said Theriault.
“We want DFO to do their job. They know what their job is, they know the laws and we want them to do it.”
Theriault says fishermen intend to protest at DFO offices until something is done.
With a file from Rebecca Lau