Wolastoqey Nation pushes back against closure of baby eel fishery in New Brunswick

The lead fishery negotiator for the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick say the federal government is treating them like “second class citizens” when the minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada or DFO, decided to close the elver fishery for the 2024 fishing season.

“They really don’t take into consideration the concerns from our nations like we’re still second-class citizens in these waters,” said Ken Paul, the lead fisheries negotiator with the Wolastoqey Nation. “Our members don’t understand how individuals be making millions upon millions of dollars off the resources within our traditional territories.”

Elvers, or baby eels, look like transparent worms. The harvest is a $40 million a year industry.

On March 11, DFO Minister Diane Lebouthillie announced that because of conflict, the fishery would be closed for this season.

“As you know, over the last few years we have unfortunately seen a pattern of increasing and very serious challenges in the elver fishery, including significant quantities of elvers being fished illegally, jeopardizing the conservation of the species,” said Lebouthillie in a statement. “The fishery has also become the focus of harassment, threats and violence between harvesters and toward fishery officers, with a number of confrontations and incidents of violence creating an immediate threat to the management of the fishery and public safety.

“This undermines international and domestic efforts to sustainably manage elver fisheries.”

But Paul doesn’t believe the minister that the fishery was also closed for conservation.

“DFO made these determinations saying well there’s a bunch of unauthorized fisheries and so we’re going to for the sake of conservation we’re going to close down the fishery,” he said. “We’ve asked for those numbers and how they actually determined like how do they assess how much was being brought up by the unauthorized fisheries but they have not provided any information on that.”

There are eight commercial licence holders and each with a 1,200 kg quota.

The lucrative fishery draws people to harvest without authorization. Since DFO closed the fishery, five people have been charged with illegal harvesting. One kilogram of elvers can fetch around $5,000.

The elvers are shipped to China where they’re raised to maturity and slaughtered for food.

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