Bear River First Nation says its developing plans to create its own moderate livelihood fishery in the area of St. Mary’s Bay and they are doing so in cooperation with other Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq chiefs.
In a three-page letter to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan and other Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq chiefs, Bear River Chief Carol Dee Potter expressed her band’s concern around the ongoing lobster dispute in Digby County, saying the tense and at times violent situation between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers has forced its people from fishing in the area.
“Our community has fished St. Mary’s Bay as a traditional fishing ground since time immemorial,” wrote Chief Potter.
“We currently fish St. Mary’s Bay for both communal commercial and food, social and ceremonial purposes, although over the last few weeks our fishers have been forced out of this area due to the ongoing dispute.”
Chief Mike Sack and the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched its moderate livelihood fishery on Sept. 17, and Chief Potter said nobody from Minister Jordan’s office, nor the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, reached out to consult with the band.
Bear River First Nation is the closest Mi’kmaq community to St. Mary’s Bay, where the Sipekne’katik is fishing for lobster, but Potter said nobody from the Sipekne’katik band had reached out, either.
Chief Sack says they sent the moderate livelihood lobster fishing management plan to all Mi’kmaq chiefs ahead of the fishery launch and has since reached out to the Bear River Chief.
“Our community was very grateful to have Chief Carol at our opening day,” said Sack. “I also reached out to her after I received the letter, just to let her know, that if she had any questions or concerns that she could call and I would help out in any way that I could.”
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Late Friday night, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans appointed Allister Surette as a special mediator to facilitate discussions between Indigenous and commercial lobster fishers in Nova Scotia.
Surrette is a former Nova Scotia MLA and cabinet minister and current president and vice-chancellor of the Université Sainte-Anne, located in Digby County.
The Maritime Fishermen’s Union local 9 president Lex Brukovskiy who represents the South West Nova Scotia fishing area where the lobster dispute is taking place, says they are hoping to set up a room for dialogue with all First Nation bands to ensure all parties are on the same page when it comes to conservation.
“We welcome the Bear River approach,” said Brukovskiy. “MFU local 9 fishermen have fished alongside First Nation fishers for a long time in Peace and Friendship. We want to move forward and work with Bands that are seeking the same.”
Brukovskiy said they haven’t had a chance to speak with the federal governments appointed special mediator but says they are open to speaking with all sides.
“The MFU has been striving for dialogue and feel the DFO has only impeded our efforts,” said Brukovskiy. “We want a resolution to this conflict and know we must do that on our own in communication with the other communities that utilize the fishery.”
Without dialogue, Brukovskiy says the lobster dispute will only continue and is hopeful for a quick resolution.
The Sipekne’katik fishers were granted an interim court injunction prohibiting anyone from interfering with its moderate livelihood fishery last week and the RCMP has increased its presence in the area.
Chief Sack says he will have a discussion with all Mi’kmaq chiefs on Wednesday to update them on their management plan and conversations with DFO.
“I want everyone to be on the same page,” said Sack.