First Nation in N.S. vows to keep fishing despite arrest for ‘unauthorized fishery’

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Days after he was arrested by federal Fisheries Department officers, Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack said Friday his band members will continue to fish in St. Marys Bay whether Ottawa likes it or not.

His community’s self-regulated lobster fishery — opened months ahead of the start to the federally regulated season — will continue to operate until the end of the year as planned, he said in an interview.

Officers with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, known as DFO, have pulled his members’ traps out of the water, but Sack says his community will replace them.

“For me it’s simple,” he said. “We have a right for this fishery and all we want them to do is to respect that and to let us govern our own fishery and to actually exercise that right.”

The Sipekne’katik First Nation argues that a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision affirming its members’ treaty right to fish allows them to harvest lobster year-round to earn a “moderate livelihood.”

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But the court has also said the government can regulate that treaty right for conservation and other limited purposes. Federal regulation dictates that the area where the Sipekne’katik First Nation fishery is operating in southwestern Nova Scotia — LFA 34 — is open for lobster fishing from the last Monday in November until the end of May.

Last September, the band launched a self-regulated lobster fishery outside the federally regulated season, which led to violence and the burning of a lobster pound that stored Indigenous catch.

The band’s traps aren’t authorized under the Fisheries Act. And Noel d’Entremont with the Department of Fisheries says the federal agency will continue to remove the lobster traps and seize them as evidence.

The acting director of conservation and protection for the department, d’Entremont said in an interview Friday officers with his agency have collected “a couple hundred” traps in the area since Monday, about 90 of which were seized. He said about 500 live lobsters were released into the water.

On Monday, Sack announced his community had expanded and opened its lobster-fishing season, describing the operation as a “treaty fishery.” He was arrested by fisheries officers shortly after and held at the DFO detachment in Meteghan, N.S., for about 45 minutes.

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Sack said he was questioned for being “party to the offence of (an) unauthorized fishery.” He was not charged.

He said he hopes his band can operate its own fishery without being subject to enforcement operations by the federal government. The community has said it will operate under the guidelines of its own fisheries-management plan, which it has said is based on sound conservation principles.

When asked if the Fisheries Department plans on considering the community’s conservation research, d’Entremont said, “the Government of Canada is very interested in working with communities and making progress on negotiating moderate livelihood fishing licences.”

“Other parts of our department are actively working on that,” he added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 20, 2021.

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