Fishermen demand intervention in Nova Scotia lobster dispute
SAULNIERVILLE, N.S. -- A blockade was put in place Saturday morning at the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., as an ongoing dispute between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishermen continues.
Tensions had been running high the last few days. On Saturday things were less heated with both sides regrouping.
Indigenous fishermen and their supporters stayed at the Saulnierville wharf.
“We’re here as a ceremony, to exercise our treaty right and we’re not here to fight,” said Chief Michael Sack, with Sipekne'katik First Nation.
“It shouldn’t be an argument at all. They should be allowed to fish,” said 17-year-old Bliss Rae, who spent the day supporting Indigenous fishermen. “This is unceded territory, this is their land. But it is an argument, and 20 years ago it was settled that they were allowed to fish.”
A number of people from across Atlantic Canada have travelled to the Saulnierville area to support Indigenous fishers.
“The solidity is there because we all share the same right. It’s a birthright to our people and that’s what we’re supporting,” said Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould.
Sack says government needs to respect and uphold treaty rights for this dispute to end.
“Our rights are being infringed upon. We’re here to exercise those and we’re getting no support from any level of government whatsoever,” he said.
On the other side, commercial fishermen argue Indigenous fishermen are breaking the law by fishing out of season.
“It is not appropriate for anyone to fish in a lobster breeding ground during the moulting season and destroy the resource for all the generations coming in the future,” said Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association.
“When you have two separate sets of rules you create hate and you create division,” said Terry Hallett, a commercial fishermen for 18 years.
Dozens of commercial fishermen spent the day gathered at the wharf in nearby Meteghan, N.S.
“We’re here for the long haul. The fishermen aren’t going anywhere. This is not, we’re not giving up our position. What the fishermen have done over the last two-and-a-half days is basically what the government should have been doing for the last 20 years,” said Bernie Barry, president of the ColdWater Lobster Association.
Both sides have dug in, saying their issue is with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, not each other.
“We don’t want fighting and pushing and whatever on the wharf, right, like, a lot of our people actually fish in the commercial season as well and we need to get along, our issue is with the government and not with the commercial industry,” said Sack.
“The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association and all of our allied fishermen’s associations respect and support First Nations access to the fisheries. Our fight is not with Indigenous peoples. Our fight is with the Minister and her lack of willingness to enforce the rules as they stand,” said Sproul.
The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association says they’ve been trying to get a meeting with Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, but have had no luck.
“When people feel like they have no voice with the government, things like this ensue and it’s on the minister’s shoulders for ignoring our pleas,” said Sproul.
He wants to see commercial fishermen and Indigenous fishermen meet with the federal government. Something Sack is not interested in.
“There’s no need for a joint meeting with the commercial industry. They have their own battle with the government and we do as well, completely separate,” he said.
Late Saturday evening, Sproul said commercial fishermen decided to move their boats near the Meteghan wharf, in an attempt to de-escalate the situation with Indigenous fishermen.
Sproul says commercial fishermen have been in contact with Indigenous fishermen to tell them about the development.
They have also notified Minister Jordan’s office. Sproul says Jordan said in a statement this week that officials could not move in because commercial fishermen were in the area.
Sproul says commercial fishermen have told the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that if there are not Coast Guard ships in the water by Sunday afternoon to remove lobster traps, commercial fishermen will do it themselves.
“We’re really trying to de-escalate the situation,” said Sproul. “The ball is in her court.”