Second lobster boat torched amid tensions over Aboriginal fishery in Nova Scotia
A fishing boat loaded with lobster traps is seen in Digby, N.S. on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, October 10, 2017 2:58PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 10, 2017 4:04PM EDT
SAULNIERVILLE, N.S. -- A Nova Scotia fisherman whose boat was stolen and burned Monday says he believes it was targeted because he is Aboriginal, as tensions continue over the Indigenous fishery in the area.
But Alex McDonald said he gets along well with non-Indigenous lobster fishermen in the area and doesn't believe any of them are to blame.
"I know the other fishermen so I don't believe it was my fellow fishermen that fish beside me. For all the years that I've been fishing I haven't had any problems with anybody. I fish the same licence that they fish," he said Tuesday.
McDonald said he thinks someone is trying to create trouble -- noting that a dry-docked, non-Aboriginal fisherman's boat was burned in Weymouth North last week.
RCMP said Tuesday both fires appear to have been deliberately set and are asking the public to come forward with any information that could assist in their investigations.
There have been tensions in the area recently over the Indigenous ceremonial and food fisheries, and last month two non-Aboriginal men were charged with threatening Indigenous fishermen online.
"We don't know if they are connected or not," Premier Stephen McNeil said Tuesday when asked about whether the fires were related to the brewing problems in the fishery.
McDonald said he went to the Comeauville wharf midday Monday to check on his boat, the Buck and Doe, but it was gone, and lines used to secure it to the wharf had been burned.
He said he was called later in the day by Fisheries and Oceans, who said his boat was spotted burning in St. Mary's Bay but sank before it could be towed to shore.
"It's pretty crazy, the thought of somebody taking your vessel and setting it aflame," he said.
"That's my livelihood. I just rebuilt the transmission. It cost $7,300 three weeks ago."
In the case of the Weymouth fire, police said the initial investigation has determined someone put something in the engine hatch which caused the fire.
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey said Tuesday he's aware of the boat arsons but says it's too early to say if they were racially motivated.
"It's premature to draw any conclusions," he said. "I'm confident that they (police) will complete a thorough investigation of these circumstances."
McNeil said the province has capacity for both the native and commercial fisheries, "but it means that everyone has to have an open conversation."
Asked if he was concerned the tensions could boil over into violence, McNeil replied: "I haven't seen that."
Non-Indigenous fishermen have staged several protests outside fisheries offices in Digby, Tusket and Meteghan in recent weeks over claims that Aboriginal fishermen are taking unfair advantage of their right to continue fishing outside of the regular commercial season, which ended May 31.
"I can't see Aboriginal people depleting the stocks in any such way. It has no effect on the stocks. It never had," said McDonald.
McDonald said his boat was worth about $60,000 and he employed up to four deckhands during the winter months.
He said if someone was trying to send a message, they picked the wrong person.
"I don't do a whole lot of food fishing for lobster in the summer time, so it shouldn't affect me at all," he said.
In 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada issued the landmark Sparrow decision that found Indigenous Peoples have the right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes. The court also found that right takes priority over other uses for the resource, but conservation must be considered.
However, federal regulations state that commercial sales from these fisheries are prohibited.
Morley Knight, assistant deputy minister with the Department of Fisheries, told the CBC recently that there were "clear indications" of abuse in the Indigenous food, social and ceremonial fishery in St. Mary's Bay and that officials were stepping up patrols of the area.
Michael Sack, chief of the 2,500-member Sipekne'katik First Nation, has said some Mi'kmaq fishermen could be selling lobster on the side, but they are only exercising their right to earn a moderate living from the fishery as spelled out by the Supreme Court of Canada in its Marshall decision.
The lobster business remains the most lucrative fishery in Canada, generating more than $2 billion in export sales in 2015 and again in 2016. The roughly 950 lobster licence holders in southwestern Nova Scotia work in the most profitable fishing grounds in the country.
-- Kevin Bissett in Fredericton, with files from Keith Doucette in Halifax.