A new report released by the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans says the federal government is failing First Nations fishers and the time to act is now.
The report, named Peace on the Water: Advancing the Full Implementation of Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik and Peskotomuhkati Rights-Based Fisheries, comes 23 years after a Supreme Court of Canada ruling upheld treaty fishing rights.
While the 1999 ruling in R. v. Marshall,R. v. Marshall affirmed moderate livelihood treaty fishing rights, the senators in the committee concluded Ottawa has failed to implement them.
“The time has come now, we have a roadmap here in terms of recommendations — and we hope they follow them, because we believe this is a path forward,” said Sen. Brian Francis.
Following five months of interviews with First Nations leaders, commercial fisheries representatives, academics and government officials, the standing senate committee landed on 10 recommendations.
One of those recommendations includes reallocating commercial traps to the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik and Peskotomuhkati.
“DFO has tried to purchase commercial lobster licences from non-First Nations fishers with the intent of redistributing them to First Nations. However, the buyback approach has not worked because few are willing to sell,” said Francis.
Committee chair Fabian Manning said witnesses told them the buyback approach is not working.
“It wouldn’t be in our position to, as a committee, to see 10 per cent, 20 per cent, 50 per cent, whatever the case may be. We feel the process is just important now to get started,” Manning said.
The committee also heard that there isn’t peace on the water. Systemic racism is present throughout government departments, policies and regulations, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans prioritizes commercial fisheries over rights-based ones.
Members also heard that First Nation fishers are concerned for their safety on the water, and federal authorities are not doing enough to protect them from acts of intimidation and violence.
“The status quo isn’t working. Everyone’s frustrated. The First Nations fishers are frustrated. The government’s even frustrated. I know the non-Native fishing organizations are extremely frustrated,” said Sen. Dan Christmas.
Among the recommendations, the committee would like to see tools developed to educate the public on treaty rights, and integrating Indigenous laws and principles into decision-making processes.
“I do like the title Peace on the Water. And I think that’s a very important principle to recognize. You know, we need peace. And peace can happen if we let it,” said expert witness Shelley Denny.
The final recommendation is that the government should provide progress reviews, updating Canadians on the implementation of the recommendations should Ottawa choose to adopt them.