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With commercial fishermen blockading the lobster pound in New Edinburgh on Tuesday evening, moderate livelihood fisherman Jason Marr loaded his catch aboard his van and headed to a friend’s storage facility an hour away in West Pubnico.
“I got there and it was quiet, dark, so I proceeded to put away my lobster,” said Marr on Wednesday.
“Then all hell broke loose. A couple hundred guys show up, they’re smashing windows, they vandalized my van.”
As in New Edinburgh, the commercial fishermen said the lobster was illegally caught out of season.
Marr refused to leave the 3,300 pounds of lobster he caught with his two daughters, and the livestreamed videos he posted of himself holed up in the pound surrounded by yelling commercial fishermen was shared thousands of times.
“The government needs to step in and do something,” said Marr, who says the RCMP dragged him from the building and allowed the commercial fishermen to seize his catch.
“We had the highest court in the land say we’re allowed to do it, what more clarification do they need?”
Though they want different things, both sides of this dispute have called on the federal government to govern.
Former provincial NDP fisheries minister Sterling Belliveau accused federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan on Wednesday of pitting two communities against one another by “sending mixed signals.”
On Sept. 16, Jordan issued a news release stating, “Until an agreement is reached with DFO, there cannot be a commercial fishery outside the commercial season” and “Fishing without a licence is a violation under the Fisheries Act and anyone fishing outside the activities authorized under a licence may be subject to enforcement action.”
Commercial fishermen cited that statement during the following days as they hauled and disabled traps set in St. Mary’s Bay by members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation who are attempting to pursue a self-regulated moderate livelihood fishery.
Two weeks later, on Treaty Day, Jordan appeared to change her stance.
“This is not about creating a brand new fishery outside the law,” she wrote in a letter to the editor in The Chronicle Herald.
"This is about actualizing a fishery that always had a right to exist. This can be a turning point in our treaty relationship. We need to do things differently. In this instance, that means working in partnership with First Nations to launch a fishery that members of their community can earn a moderate livelihood from. It means working together to ensure the fishery is viable, sustainable, has the tools it needs to succeed, and where conservation of the resource for generations to come is key.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Sipekne’katik chief Michael Sack said he had had “good conversations” with Jordan as he sat in the parking lot of a New Edinburgh lobster pound being blockaded by commercial fishermen.
Inside the facility was lobster caught from the moderate livelihood fishery being pursued by his community members from the wharf in Lower Saulnierville.
“I’m more worried about why the RCMP are letting the commercial fishermen get away with all these hate crimes they are committing,” said Sack.
For their part, commercial fishermen who have bought licences to fish in St.Mary’s Bay that go for about $800,000 allege over 40 First Nation boats have been fishing outside the season in recent years.
According to landing data provided by Fisheries and Oceans, the commercial catch dropped 54 per cent in the Bay between the 2016-17 season and the 2018-19 season. That represented a combined decrease in landed value to the 76 fishermen who remained in the Bay of $8.2 million.
Belliveau said that the Supreme Court of Canada gave the federal fisheries minister authority to manage a moderate livelihood fishery in its original Marshall decision and in the clarification it issued soon after.
According to a 2017 filing with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, regarding a proposed offshore drilling project, Sipekne’katik First Nation has 15 lobster licences (nine in Lobster Fishing Area 34, three in LFA 35, two in LFA 33 and one in LFA 32).
It also has five scallop licences for the Bay of Fundy, 10 swordfish licences, one tuna licence and two sea urchin licences.
“The licences that have been issued to Mi’kmaw communities are not in the hands of aboriginal people,” said Belliveau.
“They are being leased to non-aboriginal fishermen. People are benefiting and making money but it’s not making its way to community members and they aren’t providing the access intended in the Marshall decision.”
Bernadette Jordan declined an interview request on Wednesday and did not respond to a list of questions sent by The Chronicle Herald.
Instead, they provided a statement condemning the violence.
“I am appalled by the reported events in Digby County last night and I strongly condemn the actions of every individual who destroyed property, committed violence, or uttered threats,” reads the written statement.
“There is no place for this kind of violence or intimidation. I am particularly disturbed to hear reports of racist comments and actions made towards First Nations peoples. This is unacceptable and we all have a responsibility to call out and condemn this kind of behaviour and language.
I am very relieved that no injuries have been reported. Right now, I am calling on everyone involved to take a step back, and bring calm and understanding to the situation."