Eskasoni developing its own moderate livelihood plan, starting with lobster

Atlantic Canada’s largest Mi’kmaw community is preparing to launch a moderate livelihood fishery that will focus first on lobster.

Fish harvesters met this week in Eskasoni First Nation to discuss the development of a plan, with fishing to begin later this spring. 

“Our first concentration is going to be in the lobster industry, which is deemed to kick off probably in May,” said fishing captain Jibby Paul.

“From there on, we will continue on with appendices to be inserted into our moderate livelihood plan.”

Last fall, fishermen from Eskasoni joined members of the Potlotek First Nation in carrying out one of the province’s first self-regulated Indigenous fisheries.

Paul said Eskasoni’s moderate livelihood fishery will be far-reaching. 

“We expect to be fishing all of Atlantic Canada because we are the biggest First Nations band here,” he said.

Council to develop long-term plan

Fish harvesters in the community are expected to provide advice to Eskasoni’s chief and council in developing its own fishery guidelines.

Paul said two moderate livelihood co-ordinators will be appointed over the coming weeks to help guide the process. He said there is no time limit on when the plan will be completed. 

“Time-frame factors are not a concern to us,” Paul said. “It’s not an overnight issue —  it’s a long-term plan.”

Mi’kmaw harvesters from Potlotek First Nation took to the water on St. Peters Bay to launch a moderate livelihood fishery on Oct. 1, 2020. (Brent Kelloway/CBC)

The community is expected to work in co-operation with the federal government to ensure that catch is landed responsibly. 

“We’ll work among ourselves to develop this plan that we modify and restructure, so the government and Department of Fisheries and Oceans will be very satisfied with the plan that we have set forth,” said Paul. 

“And this is all based on the conservation and science, so we work with that department.”

Due to gathering limits, Paul said fishers will be able to provide input into the plan’s development without having to attend meetings. 

Still waiting for ‘moderate livelihood’ to be defined

The Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark 1999 decision in the Donald Marshall Jr. case affirmed a treaty right to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a moderate livelihood. 

But after waiting more than two decades for “moderate livelihood” to be defined, the Mi’kmaq are moving ahead on their own.

On Wednesday, Chief Terry Paul of the Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton said his community is in the planning stages of developing its own livelihood lobster fishery, and will be seeking feedback from the community in the coming months. 

Chief Terry Paul of the Membertou First Nation says the community is making plans for its own self-regulated fishery. (CBC)

Sipekne’katik First Nation was the first to launch a moderate livelihood fishery on Nova Scotia’s southwest coast in St. Marys Bay last September. 

That fishery faced tense and sometimes violent opposition by non-Indigenous fishermen, many of whom argued the fishery would hurt lobster stocks.

Sipekne’katik First Nation and Potlotek First Nation have launched separate lawsuits against the Nova Scotia government over the right to sell seafood harvested through a moderate livelihood fishery.

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