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Indigenous fishermen sell lobster from Digby wharf to make statement on treaty rights

A group of Indigenous fishermen hauled traps brimming with lobster from waters off Digby, N.S., to sell on Thursday to make a statement about their treaty rights amid escalating tensions with commercial fishermen. The event came two weeks before the opening of the lucrative commercial lobster fishery in southwest Nova Scotia.

Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Michael Sack says his band will continue to fish for lobster out of season. (Paul Withers/CBC)

A group of Indigenous fishermen hauled traps brimming with lobster from waters off Digby, N.S., on Thursday to sell to make a statement about their treaty rights amid escalating tensions with commercial fishermen.

The event came two weeks before the opening of the lucrative commercial lobster fishery in southwest Nova Scotia.

Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Michael Sack said the group was simply exercising its right to fish and sell their catch for a moderate livelihood.

“We have a reserve. We have a lot of people in poverty, so it’s a revenue stream of our people and we’re here to support that,” said Sack.

Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, says DFO needs to stop out-of-season lobster fishing during peak reproductive periods. (CBC)

Five groups representing commercial fishermen have written to DFO demanding that it stop out-of-season lobster fishing during peak reproductive periods, which they say will damage stocks.

Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, reiterated that the groups support the right of First Nations to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes, “but that’s not what this is about.”

“What this is about today is commercial lobster fishing in an area where the lobster fishing season is closed for conservation reasons,” he said.

“The truth is that there has been a tremendous amount of lobster extracted from this area this summer, and it can’t take place during a closed lobster fishery.”

Sproul said the Sipekne’katik event amounted to a “publicity stunt,” and claimed that Sack behaved in a deliberately “inflationary manner.”  

“What you saw is respect and restraint from honest, hard-working fishermen and fisherwomen,” said Sproul, who speaks on behalf of the groups.

“I have to tell them how proud I am of all of them for not taking Mr. Sack’s bait.”

Sack said he has no intentions of halting fishing out of season. He confirmed his group was not fishing for food, social and ceremonial purposes.  

Members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation hauled lobster traps and sold the catch on the wharf in Digby, N.S. (Paul Withers/CBC)

“We’ll catch. We’ll sell it, and we’ll continue to do it and make a livelihood,” he said.

DFO did not appear to be at the event Thursday. But in a statement, spokesperson Debbie Buott-Matheson said fishery officers were on regular patrols and were monitoring activities at the wharfs.

Buott-Matheson said DFO has been working with First Nations to implement their right to fish for a “moderate livelihood,” as mentioned in the landmark Marshall ruling of 1999.

“Negotiating these agreements takes time and DFO looks forward to working in partnership with Indigenous communities on a stable, long-term approach to Indigenous fisheries,” she said.

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