Quebec First Nation challenging commercial lobster fishing limits
An Indigenous band in eastern Quebec is challenging the limits of its commercial fishing licence, saying the federal government should allow its members to sell lobster caught during its fall fishery in the Bay of Chaleur.
The Mi’kmaq community of Listuguj, on the Restigouche River near Cambellton, N.B., has the right to fish for lobster in the fall, but the catch can’t be sold because it’s supposed to be part of a sustainable food fishery — not a commercial enterprise.
The Listuguj band issued a statement Monday saying it plans to sell some of its catch to cover its costs.
“The fishery will be conducted without a licence … but will be regulated by the community’s own law and fishing plan,” the band said in the statement that was aimed at getting the attention of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
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Chief Darcy Gray said the federal Fisheries Department has refused to say why it won’t grant the band a commercial licence for the fall season.
The band has had a limited commercial licence for spring fishing for nearly two decades.
“Prime Minister Trudeau has often repeated that his government’s most important relationship is with Canada’s Indigenous people,” Gray said in the statement.
“This fall provides the prime minister with an opportunity to show us what that really means.”
Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning.
The First Nation signed a framework agreement with the federal government last November, leading to formal negotiations on fishing rights, but Gray said the talks are moving too slowly.
“Listuguj remains committed to negotiating a long-term arrangement with Canada to find reconciliation on water,” Gray said. “But we cannot be made to wait indefinitely.”
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Under a 1990 ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada, known as Sparrow, Indigenous Peoples are allowed to fish outside the regular commercial season to feed their communities or to supply ceremonial gatherings — but they are barred from selling their catches.
The Listuguj First Nation has conducted a limited commercial fishery every spring following a Supreme Court of Canada decision in 1999 that concluded Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy bands in Eastern Canada could hunt, fish and gather to earn a “moderate livelihood.”
The court followed up with a clarification two months later, saying the treaty right was subject to federal regulation.
The Listuguj band is not the first Indigenous group to defy federal lobster fishing rules.
In the early 2000s, bands in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia set lobster traps under their own management plans, which led to a series of violent clashes — most notably at Burnt Church, N.B., now known as the Esgenoopetitj First Nation.
Most First Nations in the Maritimes and Quebec have since signed interim fishing agreements with Ottawa, but some Indigenous leaders have complained about the pace of talks.
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In 2017, non-Indigenous fishermen in western Nova Scotia started a series of peaceful protests at federal offices to draw attention to their claims that a small faction of Indigenous fishermen were selling their catches out of season and using the food and ceremonial fishery as cover.
At the time, a federal spokesman said negotiations involving treaty-related rights “take a very long time.”
The federal government has said the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that a “moderate-livelihood fishery” must be conducted under federal regulations to ensure conservation of the resource.