“While there is a right to conduct an food, social and ceremonial (FSC) fishery, the buying and selling in the FSC fishery, contrary to the regulations, is unacceptable and it's a problem that has to be addressed,” DFO Assistant Deputy Minister Morley Knight said.
“Just like the majority of people in the commercial side of the industry are abiding by the law, the majority of First Nations people are also abiding by the law. So we all have to be very cautious and very sensitive about that,” he added. He said when a small number of people are operating outside of the law it has to be dealt with. But at the same time, he said, you have to be careful that “we don't infringe upon the rights or those abiding by the laws and policies in place.”
“They have priority after conservation,” said Knight, about the FSC fishery.
Fishermen have been holding demonstrations in the region demanding the Department of Fisheries and Oceans do more enforcement of lobster poaching and commercial sales of lobster out of season. The fishermen say their argument is not with the legitimate food, social and ceremonial fishery.
Knight said DFO will be increasing resources on land and on the water and will be pulling in resources from other parts of the region, and if necessary other provinces, to conduct enforcement.
“We are inspecting gear. If it contravenes regulations it will be seized and removed from the water,” he said, saying the department has already removed a significant amount of gear from the water. Knight also said the department has commenced a number of inspections at fish plants in the area to determine, if lobsters are present, where they are coming from, when they were caught and why they are there.
Another thing Knight said the department wants to do is work collaboratively with lobster harvesters and First Nations communities to get through these issues. He spoke about how in the last 18 years since the 1999 Marshall court decision, “in many, many cases we’ve had good relationships between First Nations harvesters and industry.” He says this is important to continue with.
“We’re hoping we can find a solution collectively because if we don’t the alternate is not good. It’ll spiral down into a situation where it ends up before the courts, it ends up in conflict . . . or it ends up where we damage our lobster fishery (reputation).”
He reiterated it is a complex, difficult and sensitive issue.
“We need to very careful of how we deal with this and how we respond to it, because whatever we do we’re likely to be tested sometime before the courts. We’ve been tested by the courts many, many times on issues relating to fisheries by Indigenous people in Canada and I’ll put it bluntly to you, in most cases we come on the losing side of those issues,” Knight said. “And we need to be careful moving forward that we don’t create another situation that results in another precedent, and that is a possibility. We didn’t think we were going to lose the Marshall case, but we did.”
DUMPING OF LOBSTERS
On the issue of enforcement, Knight also spoke about recent finds of dumped lobsters in wooded areas in the Weymouth area. He suggested that potentially some of these lobsters may have come from legitimate fisheries and were caught some time ago.
“Some of them look quite old, there is no smell, no flies. They’re probably form an earlier time,” he said, although a fisherman said from the floor that if lobsters are held in the summertime in refrigerated tanks it’s very rare that they are left over from the commercial season.
Knight also said the lobsters may have been discarded because of mortality issues. They may have been dead or weak.
If not a mortality issue, he said, “Maybe people had to get rid of lobsters because they were very concerned about getting caught with the lobsters. That’s a possibility and that’s unfortunate because that means they were probably planning to do something with the lobsters that they shouldn’t be doing.”
He said why the lobsters were discarded is speculation on his part, but their origin is being investigated.
Asked for DFO’s response to short lobsters and v-notched female lobsters being found amongst discarded lobsters. Knight said any blatant disregard for undersized lobsters and v-notched female lobsters “can’t be tolerated.”