Fishermen in southwestern Nova Scotia are raising concerns that there are abuses happening in the Aboriginal food fishery and commercial sales of lobster are happening. They want to see DFO do more to prevent this.
David Whorley, DFO manager for southwestern Nova Scotia, says the vast majority of First Nations harvesters, just like the vast majority of commercial fishermen, are law-abiding fishermen.
But he says there are “marginal actors” – as there in all regulated industries – who don’t follow the rules.
“That’s what we have conservation and protection officers for. They’re charged with enforcing the fisheries related rules for commercial, for recreational, for food, social and ceremonial, and they have been active,” Whorley says. “They’ve been active on the water and off the water and using the full range of tools that they’ve got. It runs the full gamut from outreach and education and relationship building with First Nations fisheries coordinators, to on-the-water inspections. They’ve seized gear. They’ve seized catch.”
Whorley believes part of the problem is too much inaccurate information is spreading, particularly on social media, in terms of what is or isn’t happening. He is encouraged that demonstrations by fishermen on Sept. 14 recognized there is a food fishery that is to be respected.
“First Nations have a right that’s been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada. It’s a constitutional right. They have a right to be out there fishing for food, social and ceremonial purposes. And I think commercial fishermen get that,” says Whorley.
But he says DFO is hearing, and taking seriously, the concerns fishermen are raising about suspected abuses of the fishery.
“The enforcement branch of Fisheries and Oceans has been active. I hope that message gets out,” he says. “They’ve been busy on and off the water and using the full range of enforcement techniques they’ve got available.”
Whorley won’t comment on specific investigations but says, “work continues.” He notes DFO has been engaging with the leadership of First Nations communities, as well as the lobster industry.
“There is no indication that the fishing industry wants anything other than an orderly, productive fishery and we get the same message from the First Nations communities,” Whorley says.
Fishermen have talked about cash transactions happening outside of the commercial lobster fishery. When this is the case Whorley says of course cash transactions are difficult to track, but it doesn't prevent investigations from happening.
Asked what penalties fish buyers could face if they are involved in the illegal purchase of catches, Whorley says, “The Fisheries Act sets out a range of penalties. For summary offence it’s up to $100,000. For an indictable offence up to a half a million dollars. There are real disincentives.”
Asked if fishermen are correct when they say there is illegal commercial selling is taking place by some – or whether they’re off base – Whorley returns to the original premise.
“The basic fact of the commercial and food, social and ceremonial fisheries is an overwhelming amount of law-abiding people. To the extent that there is marginal activity that contravenes terms and conditions of licences or regulations, Conservation and Protection is active in doing their best to bring that to a successful solution.”
Asked if there is a concern over conservation, Whorley says based on capacity the fishing the food, social and ceremonial fishery it does not create a conservation concern for DFO.
There are seven organizations that have food, social and ceremonial access in southwestern Nova Scotia. The number of boats and the number of tagged traps varies.
“They bargain individual with Fisheries and Oceans in setting the terms of their fisheries so the access varies,” Whorley says, adding that while First Nations have the right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes, it’s expected that they only fish to the levels they need.