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Membertou First Nation to become latest to join Mi’kmaq livelihood fishery in N.S.

Members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation load lobster traps on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., after launching its own self-regulated fishery on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.
Members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation load lobster traps on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., after launching its own self-regulated fishery on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The leader of a Cape Breton First Nation says his community is planning a self-regulated lobster fishery similar to the one on the province’s southwestern shore that has sparked fierce opposition from non-Indigenous harvesters.

Chief Terry Paul, who is seeking re-election as leader of Membertou, says in an online video posted Monday that his band is preparing to launch a moderate livelihood fishery.

He doesn’t provide a specific date but says it will be soon.

In southwestern Nova Scotia, additional RCMP were recently deployed to respond to the at-times violent dispute that began last month when the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched a small-scale commercial fishery outside of the federally designated season.

Read more: N.S. Assembly of Mi’kmaw Chiefs demands DFO stop seizing moderate livelihood lobster traps

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The Indigenous fishers have had traps removed from the water, a fishing boat and a van have been burned, and on Saturday, fire destroyed a lobster pound that stored the catch of Mi’kmaq fishers.

Some non-Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia have staged protests to highlight the fact that even though the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood in 1999, the court also said the Fisheries Department retains the right to regulate for conservation purposes.

Paul says he will work with band members to begin lobster fishing, and “soon we will be fishing for our own livelihood, on our own terms.”

The chief, who oversees the fisheries portfolio for the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs, says the violence directed at First Nations fishers has been shameful, and he is working with the federal Fisheries Department to calm the situation.

Click to play video 'Conservative MP says action on Indigenous fisheries dispute ‘too little, too late’' Conservative MP says action on Indigenous fisheries dispute ‘too little, too late’
Conservative MP says action on Indigenous fisheries dispute ‘too little, too late’ – Oct 19, 2020

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government is accelerating the process of fully recognizing Indigenous fishers’ rights to earn a moderate livelihood.

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“This is the work we’re doing now,” Trudeau told reporters. “It is not easy work. It is not quick work. It is work that needs to be done properly, respectfully and in partnership with everyone involved in a nation-to-nation relationship, and bringing along the commercial fishery community as well.”

Paul also noted in his video the band’s acquisition of two offshore harvesting licences for a total of $25 million from Halifax-based Clearwater Seafoods, saying it was a historic breakthrough. The chief said there will be opportunities to work in the new offshore lobster sector created through the band office.

“This is a huge step for us and our community. Long after each of us are gone, our great grandchildren will fish the offshore waters of Nova Scotia,” he said.

In addition, he said Membertou continues to acquire inshore lobster fishing licences and other licences in the commercial fishery as they become available.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2020.