Nova Scotia’s weather prompted a staggered start to the launch of Canada’s most lucrative lobster fishery on Monday as a fishing union said it’s hoping for a peaceful and safe season.
The federal Fisheries Department said fishers in Lobster Fishing Area 33 on the province’s south shore were able to proceed with dumping their traps on Monday morning.
But the department says the opening of the fall season in the adjacent Lobster Fishing Area 34 along the southwestern coast is delayed due to high winds.
Lex Brukovskiy, president of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union Local 9, said the next possible day they can dump their gear will likely be Wednesday, with a decision expected by Tuesday morning.
The 36-year-old fisherman was elected to his post this fall as tensions escalated over an Indigenous fishery launched in St. Marys Bay by the Sipekne’katik First Nation.
The situation developed into a series of violent clashes and vandalism that culminated in the burning of a lobster pound that had held Indigenous catch.
Brukovskiy said in an interview on Monday his membership is making efforts toward reconciliation with First Nations, while continuing to oppose Sipekne’katik fishing outside of the federally regulated season.
“We’re trying to make progress with everybody, starting with Sipekne’katik,” he said.
“We’re trying our best here to figure this out in the most peaceful way.”
Brukovskiy said he and another non-Indigenous fisher assisted an Indigenous boat that was taking on water on Saturday, as they would for any boat in distress. He also said he’s met with the Indigenous fishers in Saulnierville several weeks ago to explain his point of view.
“We acknowledge the treaty rights, but we feel that the way they practise their right is concerning at the moment, because we don’t feel it’s good for the sustainability of the stock,” he said.
Meanwhile, over the weekend, Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack announced there was a draft memorandum of understanding between his First Nation and the federal Fisheries Department that would allow his band to legally sell lobster harvested this fall.
A spokeswoman for the federal Fisheries Department confirmed on Sunday a draft agreement had been sent to the band, while also noting that talks are continuing.
Brukovskiy said the possibility that the deal could sanction Indigenous harvesting outside of the federally regulated season is worrying for non-Indigenous fishers as they set their traps.
“It creates a lot of uncertainty,” the 36-year-old fisherman said. “Nobody knows what the deal is, or what the proposal is, and we feel these decisions are being made without our input.”
Sipekne’katik has been fishing based on the Supreme Court of Canada’s recognition of Indigenous treaty rights in its landmark 1999 Donald Marshall Jr. decision.
The ruling affirmed the right to fish for a “moderate livelihood,” though the top court later clarified that the federal government could regulate the fishery for conservation and other limited purposes.
Last year Nova Scotia exported $2.3 billion in seafood products to 80 countries, with lobster being the highest value export.
The province issued a news release on Monday saying it’s expected there will be about 1,600 boats and 6,400 crew members on the water for the start of lobster fishing season.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2020.