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Violence Erupts in Nova Scotia Over Lobster Fishing Rights

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By The Maritime Executive 10-19-2020 12:33:52

In western Nova Scotia, a serious fight is brewing between commercial fishermen and the Sipekne’katik Mi'kmaw First Nation over lobster fishing rights. For the first time in 20 years, Sipekne’katik fishermen have exercised their treaty rights to launch their own "moderate livelihood" lobster fishery during the annual closed season, leaving local commercial fishermen concerned that there will be less left to catch.

Last weekend, hundreds of Sipekne’katik lobster pots were removed from the water, and many were deposited outside the front door of a Fisheries and Oceans Canada office. On Tuesday night, a group of several hundred non-indigenous fishermen raided two shoreside warehouses and lobster pounds used by the Sipekne’katik, damaging property and killing or stealing lobsters. One individual has been charged with arson in connection with the attacks; another faces assault charges for allegedly grabbing and shoving the Sipekne’katik First Nation's chief, Michael Sack.

“We got people that are getting threatened daily. Like I receive emails, text messages, messenger. Threats are there on a regular basis,” Sack told Global News on Sunday. 

The atmosphere of fear appears to be shared on both sides. Joel Comeau, the head of the Maritime Fishermen's Union Local 9, stepped down Friday before a planned meeting with Sack, citing threats and intimidation affecting his family. In an interview with CBC, he declined to go into detail, but his wife said that the experience has been "a nightmare."

The commercial lobster fishery in the Bay of Fundy is quite lucrative, and about 1,000 licenses are issued for the disputed area each year. During the commercial season, this equates to several hundred thousand traps. So far, the Sipekne’katik have issued tags for 350 - less than the authorization for a single commercial license, according to Chief Sack. However, non-indigenous fishermens' groups contend that removing any lobster during the off season - when the fishery is rejuvenating - is harmful for the total catch. 

On Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his government would ensure an adequate police presence to tamp down the violence. 

“We need to make sure that our police, our security officials are there to make sure everyone is protected,” he said. “We will certainly continue to work toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, recognizing the rights they have, established for quite some time, regarding the fisheries, and we must find a way forward that will work for everyone.”

On Saturday, a fire broke out at a fishing facility used by the Sipekne’katik lobstermen, destroying the structure and leaving one individual with life-threatening injuries.

 “I am deeply concerned about the suspicious fire and confident that investigators will find the answers they need to hold those responsible to account," Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said. “I have now approved a request from Nova Scotia’s Attorney General to enhance the presence of contracted [police] resources as needed."