The president of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance says his association is opposed to any moderate livelihood fishery that operates outside the federally regulated commercial season.
In an interview with the Canadian Press on Saturday, Osborne Burke said his industry association, which represents about 140 lobster processors and lobster pounds, supports the treaty right of the Mi’kmaq to fish.
However, he said it must be done under the rules set by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“Our membership does millions of dollars of business from one end of the province to the other with First Nations communities during the regular commercial fisheries and we expect that will continue,” said Burke. “What we are saying is anything outside the regular seasons, we do not support.”
Burke said the association believes it’s a matter of protecting lobster stocks during time when the crustaceans are moulting, adding that even a small number of traps are capable of landing large catches.
“The average person doesn’t realize he catching capacity with traps and more modern gear these days,” he said.
Burke, who is also general manager of the Victoria Fisheries Co-Operative in Cape Breton, said provincial licensing rules also clearly state that lobster and other seafood can’t be purchased unless they are caught with a federal licence.
The Sipekne’katik First Nation launched its regulated moderate livelihood fishery this September and has since been joined by the Potlotek First Nation in Cape Breton and the Pictou Landing First Nation.
All three have justified their decision to launch the self-regulated fisheries as exercising their treaty rights.
Indigenous nations in Eastern Canada have a treaty right to fish or hunt for a “moderate livelihood,” a right that was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 Marshall decision.
Although the term “moderate livelihood” was not formally defined by the court, a subsequent decision ruled that the government has the authority to impose some regulations for the purposes of conservation, subject to nation-to-nation consultations.
Moderate livelihood fishery is going to ‘grow and evolve’
Cheryl Maloney, a Mi’kmaq treaty advocate and member of Sipekne’katik First Nation, said the industry alliance doesn’t have a right to weigh in on a decision that was established by the Supreme Court of Canada.
“It’s up to them if they want to make a business decision not to deal with the Mi’kmaq,” said Maloney. “But what’s going to happen is we are going to find new markets and new partners.”
She said the move will only hurt the local economy in the long run because the moderate livelihood fishery is going to “grow and evolve.”
Meanwhile on Friday, federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan released a statement raising concerns about the health of the lobster stock in Cape Breton in connection with an Indigenous self-regulated fishery underway in St. Peters Bay.
Jordan said while the government recognizes the Mi’kmaq treaty right to fish, the scale of that lobster harvest is exceeding proposals made by Indigenous fishers.
But Potlotek First Nation Chief Wilbert Marshall said his community only has seven boats fishing in St. Peters Bay and he doesn’t believe they are causing conservation issues.
With files from Global News’s Alexander Quon