Listuguj Mi’gmaq Government Fall Lobster Fishery a Success Despite Opposition from Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Listuguj concludes self-regulated moderate livelihood fishery even though DFO prohibited sale of catch
October 5, 2020, Listuguj, QC – On Sunday, October 4, the Listuguj Mi’gmaq Government (“LMG”) concluded it fall lobster fishery. The Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 decision in Marshall confirmed that the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760-61 protect the right of Mi’gmaq communities to fish and sell fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood. In violation of this treaty right, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (“DFO”) prohibits the sale of lobster caught by the LMG every fall, restricting its use to food, social, or ceremonial purposes. The LMG, however, governs its fall lobster fishery with its own law and fishing plan, which permit the sale of lobster. Proceeds are used to support the community.
“It is very disappointing that Canada—our treaty partner—has chosen to stand in our way instead of working with us,” said Darcy Gray, Chief of the LMG. “There is no reason for Canada to work against us. We fish responsibly. We don’t face the opposition or violence from non-Indigenous fishers that we’ve seen in Nova Scotia. We have a model for how to do this right.”
This fall, the LMG fished within conservation limits set by the DFO and landed about 25,000 lbs of lobster. 10,000 lbs were cooked and distributed directly to community members, feeding approximately 1,500 community members, including 300 elders. The rest has been processed and stored to be sold to cover operating costs and fund community initiatives.
“The cost of operating the fall lobster fishery is significant,” explains Sky Metallic, a Councillor with the LMG. “We have 6 boats on the water. They need fuel and bait. We employ 38 people, including fishers, monitors, researchers, and cooks. They need to be paid.”
Because the DFO has refused to issue the LMG a licence permitting it to sell the lobster it caught this fall, it remains an offence under the Fisheries Act for buyers to purchase this lobster. This is a significant barrier that the LMG has been working for years to overcome.
“I understand the reluctance of buyers. The problem is the DFO. They won’t work with us. If she wanted to, the Minister could simply issue us a licence allowing us to sell our catch. She has that power,” says Chief Gray. “Instead, she chooses to outlaw our fishery, in violation of our treaty right, and stand in the way of our efforts to create employment.”
The LMG is working with other First Nations to create their own market for lobster and other sea food.
Aside from the sale of lobster, access to fisheries resources is also remains contentious. “We still need more access,” said Chief Gray. “Listuguj has more than 4000 community members. Even before the pandemic, we had over 30% unemployment. Now its worse. This fall, our lobster fishery employed 38 people for two weeks. It’s a start, but it is hardly a moderate livelihood.”
Chief Gray dismissed recent suggestions that the solution to the impasse regarding the implementation of the Marshall decision is the creation of an Atlantic First Nations Fisheries Authority.
“More than anything, our fishery is about community building. It’s about revitalizing our laws, empowering and employing our community members, feeding and paying our people,” said Chief Gray. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every Mi’gmaq community needs to develop and implement its own vision for its fishery. That is self-determination.”
The Marshall decision explains that Mi’gmaq individuals may exercise their right to fish for a moderate livelihood on the authority of the local Mi’gmaq community to which they belong. Community laws and fishing plans like those adopted by the LMG offer a model for how this can be done safely and responsibly.
“We support any Mi’gmaq community that wants to assume control over its own fishery. We would be happy to share the lessons we have learned,” said Chief Gray. “This way of fishing, of community building, is going to spread across the Maritimes. It is a rising tide. It can’t be stopped. I hope the DFO will realize this and choose to work with us, not against us.”
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