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'A really very big deal for us': 3 Mi'kmaw First Nations excited about moderate livelihood fisheries

Under interim understandings with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, three Cape Breton Mi'kmaw First Nations will fish during the commercial season, which is open now around Cape Breton and closes in mid-July. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)
Under interim understandings with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, three Cape Breton Mi'kmaw First Nations will fish during the commercial season, which is open now around Cape Breton and closes in mid-July. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)

Three Mi'kmaw communities are celebrating their dramatically increased roles in the lobster fishery around Cape Breton Island this spring.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced Tuesday it has renewed moderate livelihood understandings with Potlotek and We'koqma'q, and now Eskasoni has joined them.

Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny said he is excited because up to 70 fishers will now be out on the water hauling in traps and earning a living.

"It's a really good thing, a really very big deal for us," he said.

Under interim understandings, the bands will fish during the commercial season, which is open now around Cape Breton and closes in mid-July.

Steve Sutherland/CBC
Steve Sutherland/CBC

They will share 4,600 traps in all fishing areas around the island, which is an increase in traps and fishing areas over previous years.

In 2021, Potlotek fished up to 700 traps in lobster fishing areas 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31A during the commercial season set by DFO.

Last year, Potlotek fished 1,200 traps in the same areas. At the same time, We'koqma'q also came to an understanding with DFO and was allotted a total of 420 traps, split evenly between areas 27 and 31A.

No one from the department was available for comment Tuesday, but in a Facebook post, DFO said the fishery will not harm lobster stocks, because the fishing licences already exist and are not otherwise being used.

Denny said Eskasoni fishers will operate under a plan similar to the Netukulimk Livelihood Fisheries Plan first developed by Potlotek, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs and Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office.

Netukulimk is a Mi'kmaw word that represents the principle of using natural resources for the benefit of individuals and the community without harming the environment.

Brent Kelloway/CBC
Brent Kelloway/CBC

"It'll be a good plan for safety and conservation and we're excited for this year and a good number of traps and a good number of areas," Denny said.

The Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed Indigenous people's treaty right to earn a moderate living from fisheries and affirmed the government's authority to regulate the fishery, which has occasionally led to enforcement against Mi'kmaw fishers and clashes between Mi'kmaw and commercial fishers.

Working toward longer-term deals

DFO has begun using understandings as an interim measure while it tries to work out a longer-term arrangement.

Denny said with these new understandings, Mi'kmaw and non-Indigenous fishers should finally be able to share the resource without harassment.

"We're a fishing community and it's important that we work together and we do this peacefully and we're hoping that that'll happen eventually," he said.

Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.

We'koqma'q Chief Annie Bernard-Daisley said she was pleased with the increased access to the fishery.

She also said the deal is a "great opportunity for fishers in We'koqma'q to provide a better quality of life for their families and to exercise their inherent right to fish without interference."

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