Tensions over lobster fishing by Indigenous harvesters in St. Mary’s Bay, N.S., escalated over the weekend with shouting, fighting and the arrest of two people on a dock used by the Sepiknekatik First Nation.
Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishermen and supporters gathered at Saulnierville Pier on Saturday.
RCMP arrested and later released two men for two separate assaults — one for pushing and the other for grabbing someone by the neck.
Police said no one was hurt and the identities of the arrested men have not been revealed.
“Investigators spoke with the victims who stated they did not want to pursue criminal charges. The 34-year-old and 39-year-old men were later released and apologized to the victims,” an RCMP spokesperson said. Guillaume Tremblay said in a statement on Sunday.
“No criminal charges are expected at this time.”
Earlier on Saturday, some commercial fishermen gathered in nearby Metegan after an anonymous call on social media to “come up with a plan” to deal with “poaching” in the area.
The Sipekne’katik First Nation has a food, social and ceremonial fishery licensed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with a quota of 45,000 pounds or about 20,000 kilograms. They rejected the quota, saying it had been set without adequate consultation.
“DFO must respect the law”
Commercial fishermen have complained for weeks that First Nation members are engaging in large-scale, out-of-season commercial fishing that is not authorized by the government. The area’s commercial lobster fishing season will officially open later this fall.
“This is a problem that needs to be stopped and needs to be regulated,” said Jason LeBlanc, a fisherman in lobster fishing area No. 34, which includes St. Marys Bay. “The OFA must abide by the law.”
“I mean the (food, social and festive) tags, we realize that, but you can’t go and get £10,000 a night on an FSC tag. There’s no way. You see what happened in 2020,” LeBlanc told Radio. Canada on Saturday.
The incident is the latest flashpoint regarding First Nations fishing.
Rejecting the authority of the Canadian government
The Sipekne’katik First Nation does not accept the federal government’s authority to regulate the right to hunt under the Treaty for a moderate life. The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed this treaty right, and also granted ultimate responsibility to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for management of fish stocks.
The conflict erupted into riots in 2020 after Sipekne’katik launched their own “moderate livelihood” commercial fishery in St. Mary’s Bay. The administration later decreed that moderate fishing would only be permitted through plans it approved during commercial seasons.
In July, the Sipekne’katik again launched a moderate subsistence treaty fishing project in St. Marys Bay.
DFO seized the traps and Sipekne’katik responded with a lawsuit against the department claiming it was violating its rights under the treaty.
“Exercising our treaty right”
The belief that Canada has no right to interfere with temperate fishing has become an article of faith for many First Nations fishermen — whatever the Supreme Court rules.
“We hunt under treaties. We hunt for food and a social ceremonial license given to us by the Sipekne’katik Band. We’re just trying to get food for our people and make a little living and practice our treaty. That’s the main thing about being here,” Sipekne’katik member Keagan Sack said on Saturday in Saulnierville.
“We are here trying to provide a future for our children and a future for our families,” Sack said.
On Monday, Cpl. Chris Marshall said the RCMP is patrolling and interacting with communities and is ready to call in reinforcements from other detachments if necessary.
On Saturday, Mounties from Meteghan RCMP, Digby RCMP, Yarmouth Town RCMP, Annapolis District RCMP, Kings District RCMP, Barrington RCMP and RCMP Traffic Services were present at the Saulnierville pier, he said.
“This is something we continue to do and it’s part of our operational planning when it comes to this. So the biggest thing to take away is that we have the resources to try and continue to enhance public safety and try to deal with any issues as they arise,” Marshall said. “The most important thing is that violence and any criminal activity will not be tolerated.”
DFO monitoring status
Tim Kerr, DFO’s director of conservation and conservation in the Maritimes, said the department monitors both legal and illegal lobster fishing in St. Marys Bay.
Legal, social and ceremonial First Nations fisheries do not allow the sale of catches.
“We’re also working on verifying that the lobster is not being sold by individuals who participate in FSC fisheries. So we’ve got verification of the portion of the catch in those fisheries on the water and on land. And then, we also have,” Kerr said Monday. : “We are also looking into where the lobster is processed.”
He said that this year witnessed a similar level of fishing activity compared to previous years.
Sipekne’katik Chief Michelle Glasgow was in Saulnierville during the incident but declined to comment.
“There is no comment at this time,” Ellen Marshall, communications director for Sipekne’katik First Nation, said Monday.