HALIFAX – Fisheries officials have seized three tonnes of lobster amid tensions over the Indigenous fishery in Nova Scotia.
The lobster was seized Monday at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirmed Friday.
“An investigation is currently underway into the sale of fish not harvested under commercial licence. As part of our investigation … a seizure of lobsters was made,” DFO said in a statement.
The airport is a major lobster-shipping hub, with $187 million in seafood and lobster exports in 2016.
The seizure follows protests organized by fishermen in southwestern Nova Scotia who say Indigenous fishermen are using their food, social and ceremonial fishery as cover to illegally sell lobster out of season.
Indigenous fisherman can trap lobster outside the commercial lobster season, but they can’t sell it.
Last week, federal authorities confirmed they had seized more than 300 illegal traps, most of them in St. Marys Bay, but it remains unclear who owns the gear.
Tensions among lobster fishermen have been rising ever since the protests started in September. Earlier this month, a drydocked boat owned by a non-Aboriginal fisherman was torched, followed a few days later by a boat owned by a Mi’kmaq man.
“DFO will continue to work with all participants engaged in the Nova Scotia lobster fishery to ensure an orderly, safe, and sustainable environment for all harvesters,” the department said in its statement Friday, adding it would make no further comment.
The ongoing dispute stems from a September 1999 ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada that confirmed First Nations have sweeping fishing and other treaty rights but left lingering questions about the limits.
The decision also said Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy bands in Eastern Canada could hunt, fish and gather to earn a “moderate livelihood,” though the court followed up with a clarification two months later, saying the treaty right was subject to federal regulation.
Most First Nations in the Maritimes and Quebec have since signed interim fishing agreements with Ottawa, which has spent more than $600 million providing Indigenous bands with boats, equipment and licences.
But those interim agreements remain just that — temporary fixes that are now the subject of negotiations that have dragged on for almost 10 years.
A senior federal official has said the negotiations are making progress, but Bruce Wildsmith, legal adviser to the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs, has suggested some First Nations may be getting impatient with the pace of talks.
The federal government says the court decision made it clear that a “moderate livelihood fishery” for Indigenous people must be conducted under federal regulations to ensure conservation of the resource.
Wildsmith has said that issue has yet to be resolved at the negotiating table.
(The Canadian Press, Global)