Loading articles...

Mi'kmaq band finds buyer for portion of lobster catch after alleged blacklisting

Last Updated Oct 27, 2020 at 1:12 pm MST

Indigenous fishermen head from the harbour in Saulnierville, N.S. on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. Tensions remain high over an Indigenous-led lobster fishery that has been the source of conflict with non-Indigenous fishermen. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX — A First Nation in Nova Scotia that was struggling to sell its lobster amid tensions over its self-regulated fishery says it has managed to find a buyer for a portion of its catch.

Chief Mike Sack of Sipekne’katik First Nation said today his band had been stuck with about 14,000 pounds of lobster its commercially licensed boats caught in the Bay of Fundy. 

He estimates the value of the lobster at about $150,000, but last week he said potential buyers feared retaliation if they did business with the band.

Sack says the new buyer — who is not being named by the band — won’t be purchasing lobster harvested in St. Marys Bay under the band’s self-regulated moderate livelihood fishery.

Sipekne’katik opened the St. Marys Bay fishery last month, saying their fishers were exercising the treaty right of East Coast Indigenous communities to fish for a “moderate livelihood,” as confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999.

A second ruling from the court clarified that the federal Fisheries Department can regulate to conserve stocks, while also noting the application of the rules need to be justified.

Some non-Indigenous fishing groups have argued that there should be a moratorium on the moderate livelihood fishery as it is occurring outside of the federally regulated season and therefore violates the Supreme Court’s clarification.

In the weeks since it was launched on Sept. 17, two lobster pounds handling Sipekne’katik lobster have been targeted, with one damaged and the other destroyed by fire. Last Wednesday the band obtained a court injunction that prohibits anyone from “threatening, coercing, harassing or intimidating” band members involved in the fishery or people doing business with them.

Sack said the band’s three commercial vessels, which were licensed to participate in the fisheries as a result of the Marshall decision, have sold their catch to licensed buyers for years.

However, he alleges since the launch of the self-regulated fishery all of his band’s catch was blacklisted by lobster buyers.

Last week, a potential buyer emerged and then withdrew, saying his company was concerned it could not distinguish between the lobster caught under federal fisheries licences and the lobster caught in the moderate livelihood fishery.

The provincial government regulates the sale of lobster by granting licences to approved lobster buyers. Sack said the band is looking for a provincial exemption to sell the moderate livelihood lobster, but he said the province hasn’t offered to help.

Premier Stephen McNeil has said the province is awaiting the completion of negotiations between Ottawa and the band to define moderate livelihood fisheries.

Sack also says the band is grateful for offers of individual businesses and citizens to purchase the band’s lobster.

“Restaurant owners, chefs, seafood brokers and Canadians far and wide have approached us with sincere and creative proposals and more importantly with their support, which has meant so much to my community, this is the Canada we know,” he said in a news release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2020. 

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press