According to Canadian news reports, vandalism, physical intimidation and suspicious fires have broken out in Canada as tensions over indigenous fishing rights mount.
A “suspicious” fire destroyed a warehouse in a lobster pound near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police CTV said. The lobster camp is used by members of the Mi’kmaq tribe, also known as the Mi’kmaw or Micmacs. It came weeks after angry mobs of non-tribal fishermen swarmed and destroyed lobster pounds used by Mi’kmaq fishermen, including the one that was set on fire on Saturday.
The fire that inflicted life-threatening injuries on a man whom police say is a “person of interest” is the latest in a series of escalating arguments between Mi’kmaq and non-tribal Lobster people over the position of the tribe, which is not subject to seasonal fishing bans. In the past few weeks, a van has been set on fire, another vehicle has been destroyed, a Mi’kmaq fisherman has been barricaded in a warehouse and Hummer has been stolen and destroyed, Canadian media reported.
Non-indigenous lobster people say fishing out of season will harm the local lobster population. The leaders of Mi’kmaq say they have a legal right to fish for “moderate livelihoods” outside of federal deadlines – a position reinforced by a 1999 Canadian Supreme Court ruling – and that the Provincial and nation leaders must do more to protect these rights.
Tensions in the province had been high since late September when Mi’kmaq fishermen trapped in St Mary’s Bay near Digby. Non-tribal members are prohibited from fishing in the area between late May and late November.
The same camp in Middle West Pubnico, about half an hour’s drive from Yarmouth, was one of two pounds in the Canadian province used by Mi’kmaq lobster people who were destroyed by angry mobs earlier this week. According to Canadian Broadcasting Corp. A van was set on fire in New Edinburgh on Tuesday and one pound lobster was stolen, while in Middle West Pubnico a Mi’kmaq fisherman was barricaded in a warehouse while the mob destroyed his vehicle and killed hundreds of lobsters.
Tribal leaders have criticized the Canadian police for not doing more to suppress the mobs and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for failing to act to solve the problem. On Friday, Trudeau called for calm and defended the federal response, according to the CBC.
The impact of the Mi’kmaq fishing effort on the local lobster population is negligible, said Bob Steneck, a lobster scientist and professor of oceanography at the University of Maine’s School of Marine Sciences. Of the nearly 1,000 fishermen allowed to harvest lobster in the Middle West Pubnico fishing zone, only 11 are kept by mi’kmaq fishermen, according to the BBC.
“In my opinion it would be trivial in every way,” Steneck told the BBC.
The dispute reflects similar disagreements between Native American officials and state regulators over licensing Maine’s lucrative baby eel fishery, although there has been no confrontation or violence comparable to Nova Scotia.
In 2012, when the Maine Department of Marine Resources tightened restrictions on baby eel fisheries, the prices of which had risen in a matter of months, the Passamaquoddy tribe granted members more than 230 licenses to fish for baby eels known as elvers . At the time, eels were being considered for inclusion in the Endangered Species Act because of concerns that their populations were declining and that there were insufficient safeguards in place to protect them from overharvesting.
Despite state pressure, Passamaquoddy’s leaders insisted that they have legal contractual rights to maintain the fishery regardless of state license restrictions. State and tribal leaders later reached an agreement approved by federal officials that limited the tribe to a total annual quota of around £ 1,300 but did not limit the number of licenses the tribe can issue to its members.