COMEAUVILLE, NS - In his years of fishing alongside non-native fishermen, Alex McDonald says he’s never had any trouble or been given any grief.
Which is why he was surprised to show up at a wharf in Comeauville, Digby County, on Monday, Oct. 9 to discover his boat was gone. It was later observed at sea by DFO on fire before sinking.
The RCMP are calling the fire suspicious. McDonald feels he was targeted because he is an aboriginal fisherman.
“I’m the only native boat here,” he said standing at the wharf on Oct. 10, next to where his boat is usually tied up. In its place were burnt pieces of rope that had once secured the boat. A section of the wharf was charred.
“What I think they did was they burnt the rope off, and when they burnt the rope off it set the wharf on fire,” said McDonald, who is a band councillor with the Sipekne'katik First Nation in Indian Brook.
While he believes he was targeted, McDonald can’t understand why. Yes, there have been tensions and demonstrations this fall and late summer over concerns fishermen have about commercial fishing happening under the guise of the aboriginal food fishery, but, says McDonald, “I wasn’t doing much food fishery. Maybe once a month me and the wife and the kids come down. We set a couple of traps, take the lobster home. There’s some old people, we give them lobsters.”
His boat, the Buck and Doe, was an olden wooden. It’s the boat he was going to be using to fish lobsters during the commercial season that starts the end of November.
He was waiting Tuesday to hear back from his insurance people and also said there was another boat he could get access to if needed. But there will be some financial burden.
On Oct. 10, the RCMP in southwestern Nova Scotia issued a media release saying they are investigating two fires on fishing boats that they believe were intentionally set. According to the RCMP, a witness reported that they saw McDonald’s vessel burning in St. Mary's Bay. It sank before it could be towed back to the wharf. Investigators say the lines that had been used to tie the vessel at the wharf had evidence of fire damage. The Meteghan RCMP is leading the investigation into this incident.
A few days earlier, on Oct. 5, a fire was reported aboard the Amanda's Pride 1. That vessel had been docked at the slip in Weymouth North. The RCMP say an initial investigation determined that something was put in the engine hatch, which caused the fire. The vessel sustained damage to the interior. The Digby RCMP is leading the investigation into this incident.
“Both fires are under investigation and I can't speculate about the motivation of the parties responsible,” said Cpl. Jennifer Clarke.
The RCMP is asking for the public’s assistance. Anyone with information is asked to call the RCMP at 1-800-803-RCMP. Should people wish to remain anonymous they can contact Nova Scotia Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or text TIP202 + your message to 'CRIMES' (274637).
McDonald knows the owner of the Amanda’s Pride 1, which he said is a non-native boat.
“He’s a nice guy. We’re at the same wharf during the fishing season. He’s a really nice guy, very polite, very kind. He’s always been a good guy,” he said.
McDonald last saw his boat at the wharf in the early morning hours of Oct. 7 when he stopped to check on it. Two days later, he drove to the wharf and was shocked by what he saw – or more to the point, what he didn’t see.
“I came down the road, I didn’t see it. I told the wife, I don't think my boat is here. We drove up and it was gone,” he said, again stressing he’s never had issues with the fishermen he fishes alongside. He says fishermen here offer to check in on his boat when he’s not around. During to fish for the band. He was at a loss to understand who would do this.
“I don’t believe it’s any of the non-native fishermen I fish with, I really don’t. A lot of them called and gave me their condolences and told me, ‘Sorry Alex, that this happened, it’s not right.’ I had around 22 fishermen call me, all non-natives, and hundreds of my own people called me too.”
“It's senseless, it’s wrong, this shouldn’t escalate,” he said.