Nova Scotia

DFO investigates after dozens of lobster traps belonging to Mi’kmaw fisherman damaged

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is investigating after lobster traps belonging to an Eskasoni fisherman appeared to be deliberately damaged last week near Louisbourg, N.S.

Charles Francis fishes under a moderate livelihood authorization between DFO and Mi’kmaw harvesters, which allows designated First Nations community members to catch and sell lobster during the commercial season without increasing the number of traps licensed in lobster fishing areas (LFAs).

“We couldn’t believe it. At first, we thought everything was all right in this area because nobody said anything to us and nobody paid attention to us,” Francis said in an interview after landing his catch at the Louisbourg wharf last week.

“All of a sudden, we come fishing Saturday and everything just turned upside down for us.”

He usually fishes 178 traps, but about 70 had been hauled up, said Francis. The wooden frames of the traps were smashed and the mesh was cut.

Francis said he lost five days of work looking for and buying new traps to replace the damaged ones.

Francis says about 70 traps were hauled out of the waters off Louisbourg. The wooden frames were smashed, the mesh was sliced open, and the bait bags were cut out. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

He also alleged someone threatened his buyer, who was on the wharf waiting to receive the catch this week. Francis now has to drive more than an hour to deliver crates of lobster to his buyer at the causeway that connects Cape Breton Island to the mainland.

DFO declined a request for an interview.

In a statement, the department said it is investigating reports of tampering with lobster gear in both the moderate livelihood and commercial fisheries in eastern Nova Scotia lobster fishing areas, “and particularly in LFAs 26A and 27.” Those areas include eastern Cape Breton and Louisbourg.

The Mi’kmaq have a treaty right to fish, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court’s Marshall decision in 1999.

Francis said the trouble he’s had fishing out of Louisbourg is harming his income and those of his three crew members.

“A job like this for them is a dream,” Francis said. “They expected to make big money, but not right now.”

Four men in rubber boots and shoes wearing baseball caps and a bandana stand on a wharf with their boat and the harbour water in the background.
Nick Basque, Louis Paul, Charles Francis and Blair Charles Francis say they intend to keep fishing to try to make a moderate living, as is their treaty right. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

In addition to the investigations, DFO said it is increasing monitoring efforts to try to prevent gear tampering, which is a criminal offence.

A conviction can result in a fine of up to $100,000 under the Fisheries Act, plus a fishing ban for a period of time. DFO did not provide any data on the number of incidents or convictions.

For the fourth year, the department has authorized moderate livelihood fisheries in LFAs 26A, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31A. They cover the Northumberland Strait between P.E.I. and Nova Scotia, plus the waters around Cape Breton, except the western side along Inverness County.

The Mi’kmaw communities involved include Eskasoni, We’koqma’q, Potlotek and Pictou Landing.

A wood-and-mesh lobster trap is seen in a stack on a wharf with the mesh cut open along the side.
One of Charles Francis’s traps stacked on the wharf in Louisbourg shows mesh cut all along the side. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

DFO also authorizes moderate livelihood fisheries for four First Nations in southwest Nova Scotia. The department has said the fisheries do not affect the lobster stocks because the trap allocations come from those that have previously been removed or retired from the same LFAs. 

In a bulletin to harvesters issued last week, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs called on DFO and the RCMP to increase enforcement efforts.

In a statement, Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny said Mi’kmaw communities have been working for years to build governance and management over their treaty right to fish.

“Our harvesters should not have to deal with these continued acts of vandalism, racism and threats to their safety,” he said.

“They have the right to be on these waters.”

Francis, meanwhile, said he will continue to fish for lobster, but vandals are making it difficult.

“I’m just hoping that someday they accept us and let us earn a moderate livelihood,” Francis said. “I hope in my generation I see it.”

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