News of the attacks and harassment of Indigenous people and their property by disgruntled commercial fisherman in southwestern Nova Scotia has drawn much national attention over the past weeks, and according to Leader of the Green Party of Nova Scotia, Dr. Thomas Trappenberg, a failure of government over decades of negligence is to blame.
The controversy began when a small band of fishermen from the Sipekne’katik nation, a part of the larger Mi’kmaq people, set hundreds of lobster traps around the Bay of Fundy earlier this month. This action drew the attention of local, non-Indigenous, commercial fishermen, as this was done well before the legal lobster fishing season had begun.
The Bay of Fundy is considered to be the richest area for lobster fishing in Canada, with commercial fishers catching a value of around $493 million in 2016, according to CBC. However, this fishing, despite being done outside of the legal season, was an exercise in the Sipekne’katik nation’s treaty rights.
This led to bitter protests and standoffs over the past few weeks between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishermen. These protests have been the scenes of various acts of violence and vandalism, including the sabotage of Indigenous lobster traps and the burning of one Sipekne’katik man’s van.
Response from the Green Party of Nova Scotia
Following the initial acts of violence and vandalism, it was the Green Party that was the first political party to issue a press release, condemning the criminal activity that had occurred.
Leader of the Green Party of Nova Scotia, Dr. Thomas Trappenberg, has been vocal about the need for the Government of Canada to take action against the violent protestors, as well as create a dialogue with the Sipekne’katik tribe. Dr. Trappenberg has expressed to the media the need for local RCMP to step up and not let civilians take the law into their own hands. Via an interview with radio personality, Rick Howe, Dr. Trappenberg posed the question, “What were the police doing when arsonists and a violent mob destroyed private property and endangered a man’s life? We know they were present, but no charges have been laid”.
During an interview with Global Green News, Dr. Trappenberg shared his thoughts on the need for more clarity in the Treaties granting the Indigenous peoples their right to fish, as well as a better understanding of where concerns of sustainability ought to lie.
The Right to a Sustainable Living
Part of the controversy surrounding this dispute is over the fact that ever since the signing of the Treaty of 1752, followed by the Marshall Decision of 1999, the Mi’kmaq people of the Canadian Maritimes have had the right to hunt and fish for what is referred to as a “moderate and sustainable living”, a right which may be exercised at any given point in the year. However, it is only as of late that the Sipekne’katik have exercised this right, venturing out to fish for lobster before the commercial season began. Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack told CBC News, “It comes down to economics…our people only have these little 20-foot boats. The commercial ones are these million-dollar vessels…(we) can’t compete”.
The Treaty also has little to offer in determining what qualifies as a “moderate and sustainable living”. Dr. Trappenberg states that “for 21 years, it hasn’t been specified what the ‘moderate livelihood’ means”. Since the 1999 Marshall decision, Mi’kmaq people have been asking Canada’s Department of Fisheries (DFO) what it meant by its decision, to no effect. Dr. Trappenberg goes on to say “The Mi’kmaq have been very patient in not implementing it, and asking over and over again how it should be implemented, and what the DFO (Department of Fisheries) expects…This conflict has been purely brought on by this government, by the DFO”. Dr. Trappenberg, having studied this issue alongside Indigenous elders, maintains that it is the Green Party of Nova Scotia’s belief that the Canadian Government and the Department of Fisheries must work together with the Mi’kmaq nation to create a better understanding of the treaty and what qualifies as a “moderate and sustainable living”.
Risk of sustainability
With lobster being such a lucrative catch in the Bay of Fundy, much of the unrest from non-Indigenous, commercial fishermen is due to the belief that fishing lobster out of season is a risk for conservational efforts. One fisherman told CBC News, “It’s the time of year when the lobsters are vulnerable, and (the Sipekne’katik people) are taking them when they’re breeding”. This argument is one made by many of the commercial fishermen, despite the relatively small size of the Sipekne’katik people’s fishing operation, as only around 250 lobster traps had been set, compared with the thousands that are set every season by large-scale commercial fishers.
Dr. Trappenberg stated that he had a conversation with the Canadian Research Chair for Ocean Management, Megan Bailey, who explained that the small-scale traps set by the Sipekne’katik people will not affect the overall conservation of the lobster populations.
“Megan Bailey makes it very clear that the 250 traps are of no concern whatsoever about sustainability”– Dr. Thomas Trappenberg, Leader of the Green Party of Nova Scotia
However, Dr. Trappenberg goes on to state that there still are concerns looming about the sustainability of lobster in the region. Billion-dollar corporations, such as Clearwater Seafood, according to Trappenberg, have huge operations, with practically no oversight. “They (Clearwater Seafood) are not very regulated. One has to look at what they are doing”. It is true, Clearwater Seafood has a license to a large, private lobster fishing vicinity, 80 kilometres offshore from Nova Scotia, where they are permitted to catch up to 720 metric tonnes of lobster, a limit which may also be exceeded at times.
What must be done
In the opinion of Dr. Trappenberg, the first thing that must be done is the RCMP enforcing law and order for those who have taken part in criminal activity directed at the Indigenous fishermen over the past weeks. This must be followed by immediate action from The Department of Fisheries to make sure that the treaty rights held by the Sipekne’katik tribe and all other Mi’kmaq people, are, at long last, fully understood.