'We'll keep putting them back': N.S. Indigenous fishermen not backing down after traps removed

Sunday proved to be a tense day in St. Mary's Bay in Saulnierville, N.S., and saw commercial fishermen remove hundreds of lobster traps set by Indigenous fishermen from the water.

"No laws were broken. We retrieved improperly tagged fishing gear from a closed lobster breeding ground and prevented the ecological destruction that's been taking place here," says Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermans Association president, Colin Sproul. The fact that we had to go do that is entirely on the [Fisheries] Minister's shoulders."

Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishermen have been locked in an ongoing dispute. Both sides say things were heated on the water on Sunday.

"A Mi'kmaw fishermen went out to check his gear, and he was swarmed by commercial fishing vessels that were cutting him off and hauling their gear, stealing their traps – preventing our people from fishing," says Sipekne'Katik First Nation Chief Michael Sack.

"One of our boats was chased by a First Nations vessel, and they made an attempt to ram him and to board him," says Sproul. "He immediately turned around and retreated here to Meteghan."

Sack says, while having their gear hauled up by commercial fishermen slows their operation a bit, they are in it for the long haul – with no plans to stop fishing.

"We have more gear arriving today, tomorrow and probably as much as they pull them," says Sack. "We'll keep putting them back in the water."

Commercial fishermen say they are concerned about conservation in the bay.

"We have no problem with the Indigenous fishery," says Sproul. "We respect and support Indigenous fishery rights; but the law is clear, Indigenous people may not fish outside of the commercial season."

Indigenous fishermen say they have spoken with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans concerning their moderate livelihood plan, and are calling on the government to intervene in the dispute. 

However, neither side appears to be backing down from the fight.

"No one's leaving this bay until everyone leaves this bay – period," says Sproul. "We have been ignored, obfuscated, called racists, liars, fomenters of hate for years. This is not about race; this is not about treaty rights; this is about greed and corruption and no respect for the nursery grounds."

“Go home, enjoy your vacation, your season starts in a couple weeks,” says Sack, referring to the commercial fishermen. “If they keep bugging us, we'll be there for the start of their season."

Meanwhile, as tensions have yet to subside, Sack notes he has been receiving nation-wide support and adds he has requested more lobster traps and says help is on the way.