Sipekne’katik fishery. Photo via Facebook/Riley Howe
A First Nations Chief is criticizing Nova Scotia RCMP following two incidents where non-Indigenous commercial fishermen mobbed and destroyed property, including burning a vehicle and seizing catch, at two lobster facilities in the province Tuesday.
The vandalism, partially captured in social media videos, is part of an ongoing attempt by commercial fishermen to shut down the Sipekne'katik First Nation’s recently launched lobster fishery outside of the commercial fishing season.
“Last night I was afraid somebody would die,” said Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack said during a press conference Wednesday, adding police “aren’t doing their job well.”
Under treaty, Mi’kmaq people are allowed to fish outside of the government regulated fishery season in order to earn a “moderate livelihood”—a right that was upheld in a 1999 Supreme Court decision.
The Sipekne’katik fishery aims to provide Sipekne’katik with a moderate livelihood.
The federal government has not yet defined what constitutes a “moderate livelihood” nor placed any restrictions on the right to fish.
The Nova Scotia lobster industry, the largest in the country, is a major economic driver in the province. The province reported $1.2 billion in lobster exports in 2019, but exports were hit hard in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Last month, when Mi’kmaq leaders reported non-Indigenous fishermen were stealing and damaging lobster traps and shooting flare guns at Mi’kmaq fishermen, the federal government released a statement reiterating the treaty right.
In a statement, Sipekne’katik Chief and Council said commercial fishers swarmed the facility of a licensed buyer of the band’s lobster on Tuesday night.
“Our community members are understandably very upset; we all know this is an act of systemic racism that is not only terrorizing our people but will also drastically impact our community member’s income this year and potentially our future prosperity,” said Sack in the release.
Nova Scotia RCMP put out a press release stating they are investigating threats and mischief following two disturbances at lobster pounds.
Police said they were called to a disturbance at a lobster pound in Digby County at around 4 p.m. where they found around 200 people blocking employees from leaving.
“Some individuals were throwing rocks at the building and vehicles nearby,” police said. “While on scene, police extinguished a vehicle fire that was heavily damaged. In addition to the vehicle, there was damage to other personal and commercial property.”
At around 9 p.m. police were called to a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, where they found around 200 people who were allegedly blocking employees from leaving and damaging the facility.
“Unfortunately, events escalated with further damages incurred. The RCMP is investigating reports of crimes against person and property including threats and mischief related to this disturbance,” police said.
While police claimed they were “able to keep the peace and attempted to mediate,” witnesses from the scenes tell a different story.
Mi'kmaw fisherman Jason Marr told CBC News he believes he was followed to the Pubnico lobster pound, which he headed to after hearing that some commercial fishermen might burn his boat and take his lobster. Marr said he barricaded himself inside as hundreds of people outside burned and damaged trucks, smashed windows, shouted profanities, and threatened to take his lobster and burn down the facility with him inside.
“They said they won’t let me leave unless they have my lobsters,” Marr said in a video posted to his Facebook profile. “The cops are with them, saying that I should leave and let them take my lobsters.”
“The cops told me ‘there’s only six of us and 120 of them, we can’t help’,” Marr added.
In another video, Marr asked an officer, “how come you can use the law when you want to, but not when you’re supposed to?,” while asking the why police aren’t charging the people blocking the roads outside the facility.
The officer replied, “it’s not for me to use the law.” The cop also questioned why Marr kept asking him questions.
A video posted to Facebook by Indigenous lobster fisherman Riley Howe shows cops extinguishing a white van on fire.
Marr told CBC he watched people slash his trucks’ tires, pee in the driver’s seat, and pour liquids into his gas tank and heaters.
A Nova Scotia RCMP spokesman told VICE News he was not prepared to take any questions about the incidents.
Marr told the CBC the mob seized the lobster and “annihilated that building” after RCMP forced him to leave.
In a news release, the Sipekne’katik Chief and Council said it is still assessing the damage done. It said the fishermen destroyed cameras onsite before ransacking the facility.
The statement said the community is also seeking legal advice on how to take action against the commercial fishery.
Commercial fishermen have repeatedly said that fishing offseason threatens lobster conservation efforts, but Mi'kmaq fishermen maintain they take conservation seriously.
"We take less than 5 percent out of those areas in regards to stock of the lobster,” Sack said previously.
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