‘What are they going to do next’: Membertou fishers worried after lobster traps targeted, boat set ablaze

Membertou fishers catching lobsters off-season on a Feast-Social-Ceremonial (FSC)  licence, say they’ve lost $10,000 worth of traps to thieves or vandals  in recent months before an early morning fire destroyed their fishing boat.

The fire happened in the early morning of Oct. 12. The Cape Breton Post quoted Cape Breton police saying the fire is under investigation and is listed as suspicious.

The boat’s captain, John Bonham Paul, said it’s the latest incident the Mi’kmaq fishing crew has experience since they began fishing on the FSC licence on Aug 30.

Such a licence allows a community to send a crew to fish for non-commercial purposes, off-season,  to feed the community.

They set 100 traps back on Aug 30. All were gone within 18 hours, he said – either cut or stolen – at a cost of approximately $10,000 to replace.

They continued to fish with half the number of traps while hoping the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) would monitor the situation and educate whoever is responsible about the rights that come as a result of the Treaty of 1752.

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Remembering the Mi’kmaq war in the waters

Paul said they had caught about 400 lobsters to feed the community’s 1,700 members.

He said this has been going on for years any time Membertou tries to fish with an FSC licence.

“Eight years ago I set my gear in the same spot for the same fisheries and there was a bit altercation, a couple boats surrounded my boat cursing and swearing at us to get our gear out of the water and they even told us, ‘We don’t want to, just get your gear out of here, we don’t want to have to start a war. We don’t want to see boats get burnt,’ and stuff like that,” Paul said, adding that 45 traps went missing back then.

“When they see you out there practicing your native rights and doing something that they’re not allowed, that’s what drives them wild,” Paul said, adding burning a boat is a step beyond stealing or damaging traps.

“Like what are they going to do next? Like are they going to be so desperate that they are going to shoot at us, try to kill us? What are they going to do?” Paul said.

In a statement to APTN InFocus, the DFO said: “Fishery officers work hard to monitor compliance, and ensure a peaceful and orderly fishery, but they cannot be everywhere at once.”

Host/Producer - Winnipeg

Melissa is a proud Red River Metis and award-winning journalist who has spent more 14 years covering crime, courts, politics, business and entertainment for newspapers in four provinces.
She then joined APTN Investigates in 2009 and APTN National News in 2018 and in that time has garnered numerous awards and nominations including from the World Indigenous Television Broadcasters Network (2013), Canadian Association of Journalists (2016, 2019) and Canadian Screen Awards (2018, 2019).