Moderate livelihood fishery in Cape Breton is peaceful. But selling catch a challenge


While there are ongoing tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers in southwest Nova Scotia, a Cape Breton First Nation says its moderate livelihood fishery is proceeding peacefully.

But the challenge has been selling the catch.

“It’s going good, just difficult getting buyers,” said Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall.

Potlotek launched a rights-based livelihood lobster fishery under its own management plan on Oct. 1.

Marshall had a series of informal talks with local commercial fishers prior to that.

“They said they wouldn’t bother us, and they haven’t,” he said Friday in conversation with Information Morning in Cape Breton.

Potlotek’s livelihood fishery, centred off Richmond County, is scheduled to run throughout Unama’ki (Cape Breton) until Dec. 1.

‘Night and day’

The Richmond Inshore Fisheries Association declined to comment on Friday.

But Marshall described the current situations in the Digby area and Cape Breton as “night and day.”

It was a different scenario in 2006 when Potlotek launched its commercial fishery.

“There was clashes and fights,” he said. “We’ve seen it, and we didn’t want to go there again. And I think both sides saw that.”

Chief Wilbert Marshall of Potlotek First Nation says the new fishery will operate until Dec. 1. (CBC)

The Sipekne’katik and Potlotek First Nations face a common obstacle when it comes to provincial regulations governing fish buying,

According to the regulations under the N.S. Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act, it is prohibited for anyone in Nova Scotia to buy fish from “a person who does not hold a valid commercial fishing licence issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.”

The restriction applies to the bands themselves.

“We have a buyer’s licence,” said Marshall. “We can’t even buy our own product.”

Calls to change the law

Both he and Sipekne’katik Chief Michael Sack are calling on the province to change the law.

“Before looking at provincial regulations, there needs to be an answer from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to the question of what constitutes legal harvesting under a moderate livelihood fishery,” Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Keith Colwell said in an email.

“That’s the first step because Nova Scotia’s regulations for fish buyers rely on the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ authority and responsibility to manage the fishery and identify what are legal, licensed fisheries.”

In the statement, he encouraged the federal government “to continue dialogue with Indigenous leaders and representatives of the commercial industry, to find a solution to the current dispute.”

Meanwhile, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs is calling on the provincial and federal governments and the RCMP to take action to end the violence in southwest Nova Scotia.

But according Membertou Chief Terry Paul, the assembly’s co-chair, there are no plans to encourage Indigenous fishers to step back to allow time for negotiations.

“Our harvesters are exercising their rights and will not be bullied into pulling our boats or gear out of the waters,” said Paul.

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