Canada cut the lucrative baby eel commercial fishery in the Maritimes by 14% this week and gave that quota to Mi’kmaq bands to implement a treaty right to earn a moderate living from fishing.
The quota cut is being watched closely as it was imposed without compensation by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) after the department canceled a voluntary commercial license buy-back program for 2022.
The “willing buyer-willing seller” approach has been used in the past to increase First Nations access.
“It’s been an exercise in intimidation from the very beginning. You’re not going to fish. We’re going to take it,” said Brian Giroux, managing director of the Shelburne Elver Group.
The co-op is one of nine commercial elver license holders in the Maritimes, most of which are in Nova Scotia. The Giroux cooperative lost 160 kilograms of quota.
“That represents, at current market value, approximately $1 million spread over my 17 members,” Giroux told CBC News.
Maritime fishing worth $40 million
In Maine, where the season is open, baby eels sell for around $2,250 a pound.
The tiny, translucent eels – known as glass eels – are big business. Caught each spring during their migration in the rivers of the Maritimes, the elvers are shipped alive to Asia and raised until adulthood for food.
The fishery in the Maritimes is worth about $40 million a year.
In addition to the glass eel quota cut, this week DFO also reduced a commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Tofino, B.C., and redistributed it to native bands. Instead of a quota, DFO has reduced the number of commercial traps that can be fished.
In the House of Commons, Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray said the government had an obligation to act.
“Indigenous communities have a court-ordered right to fish in their traditional waters, a right to fish for a living. And so it is a principle of our government to fulfill those rights.”
She described commercial catch reductions as part of an “industry-led” approach to reconciliation and conservation.
His office made the same claim about the elver decision in a statement to CBC News.
“DFO has received proposals for access to elvers from First Nations this season and there has been an industry-led process on elvers permits this year to reach an interim agreement,” said the Attaché. press Claire Teichman.
Genna Carey, another commercial glass eel license holder, said increased First Nations participation could be achieved “without expropriating commercial fishers.”
“We can tell you that the industry was unanimous against expropriation and that DFO gave us incredibly short deadlines to submit alternative ideas, in some cases as little as 24 hours. The expropriation was not an ‘industry-led’ solution,” Carey said. .
She also speaks on behalf of an industry association representing seven of the nine licensees.
The We’koqma’q First Nation in Cape Breton is also one of the glass eel commercial license holders who have lost their quota.
DFO said this is a temporary one-year approach “to ensure we can continue to negotiate reasonable agreements with license holders while respecting First Nations’ right to fish.”
Giroux said DFO has left open the possibility that commercial quotas could be increased this year if there is a surplus.
The ministry also failed to act on its warning that it would move commercial license holders from rivers they have fished in the past.
The Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs of Nova Scotia said bands in southwestern Nova Scotia, known as the Kespukwitk District, were interested in developing an elver fishery.
“We are encouraged to be able to begin to develop a way forward in collaboration with DFO, but we know there is still a long way to go before our treaty rights are fully implemented,” said Chief Gerald Toney, fisheries officer for the assembly, in a statement to CBC News.