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Nova Scotia fishers, Indigenous stakeholders call for more dialogue amid violence

August 31, 2023

WATCH: Nova Scotia RCMP are investigating after four people allegedly stole a crate full of lobster on a wharf in St. Mary’s Bay which led to a property owner being assaulted. As Zack Power reports, the tensions come as Indigenous and commercial fishery stakeholders are calling for peace and dialogue.

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NationTalk: Global News – As Nova Scotia RCMP continues to investigate violence on a wharf in St. Mary’s Bay, stakeholders on both sides are calling for more conversation instead of violence. Police say four people stole a crate full of lobster from a boat at the Weymouth North wharf in southwestern Nova Scotia on Aug. 2.

When confronted by the property owner, they dumped the lobster into the water and allegedly threw the empty crate, striking the owner in the arm. The four then fled on a boat, and police have not yet been able to identify them.

According to the Mounties, the victims and traps came from the Sipekne’katik First Nation.

The site has been a hot spot of activity, where lobster fishers allege they’ve seen tens of thousands of pounds of lobster being stolen from the St. Mary’s Bay region. On Tuesday, a union representing some fishers told Global News that 133 crates of out-of-commercial-season traps are floating off the coast of western Nova Scotia.

St. Mary’s Bay was the scene of confrontation in September 2020 when the Sipekne’katik First Nation started a pioneering self-regulated lobster fishery that ran outside the commercial season.

Heightened tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers resulted in confrontations on the water and riots at two lobster pounds, one of which was later burned down in a deliberately set fire.

In an interview following the reports from the RCMP, a group representing Indigenous leaders in Nova Scotia told Global News on Thursday that there has been a large amount of misinformation regarding what’s happening in St. Mary’s Bay.

When asked if moderate livelihood is a factor in some of the fishing in the area, John Paul, executive director of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat, said that moderate livelihood was something decided by the courts, citing that fishing only within season does not cover the cost of the overhead.

“Indigenous people just want to exercise their rights to make a living,” said Paul on Thursday. “It’s really about trying to make enough to cover the cost of the boat and the salary. I know with the number of traps, they’re making a reasonable amount, but nothing compared to what the commercial fishers do at their scale.”

Global News reached out to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but the department could not provide a statement in time for publication.

In a social media post, DFO said that Indigenous communities are authorized to fish for food, social, and ceremonial purposes with a licence.

The federal agency wrote, “Harvesting for moderate livelihood purposes is not permitted outside of the commercial seasons. Accordingly, the sale of lobster harvested outside of the commercial season is not authorized and subject to enforcement action.”

Groups representing fishers in Nova Scotia have longed for more enforcement to help with lobster conservation off the province’s coast. Global News reached out to the Sipekne’katik First Nation but did not receive a response in time for publication.

According to the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat, Indigenous fishers aren’t fishing enough to endanger stock. “They may not be doing it (fishing) in season, but the relative effort of the small group of people won’t catch all the lobsters that are there. It’s impossible,” said Paul.

The Maritime Fishermen Union called on all levels of government, including fishers on both sides to get to the table. “Our largest concern is the conservation of the stock on St. Mary’s Bay,” Ruth Inniss, a fisheries adviser with the Maritime Fishermen Union, said. “We tried to bring all the players of the problem to the table to solve the problem. The problem clearly hasn’t been solved.”

Police say they’ve increased resources to the area and that the investigation into the assault is still ongoing.

— with files from the Canadian Press

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