Mi’kmaw fisherman has crab traps seized by DFO during food fishery

Robert Syliboy and his crew dropped ten traps into the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean to harvest snow crab for a community feast.

“Crab’s pretty expensive, how many people on the reserve do you think could actually go out and buy it and then it dawned on me, there’s no way you can actually eat crab as a Mi’kmaw person unless you go to a store,” Syliboy told APTN News. “But I think that’s absolutely wrong.”

He said the crab traps were seized before he reached the shore.

Syliboy said he informed the Department of fisheries and Oceans (DFO), that he was harvesting snow crab under the Sparrow Decision.

crab traps
Robert Syliboy said DFO won’t return his traps until the investigation into his fishing is completed. Photo: Angel Moore/APTN.

In 1984, Ronald Sparrow, a member of Musqueam band in British Columbia was arrested and charged with fishing with what was considered an illegal net for his band’s food fishing license. The case went to the Supreme Court where it was argued that under Section 35 off the Constitution, Sparrow had the right to fish in his traditional territory according to the band’s traditional practices.

The high court upheld the Aboriginal right to fish for food purposes.

Fishing for food, and not profit

“This is very different from the Marshall Decision, this is not for profit, to feed our people,” said Syliboy.

“We went out under the Sparrow decision we brought some traps for the community to bring some crab home for everyone and we were met with DFO harassing us, bully tactics,” said Syliboy.

Two traps were missing before they returned to shore.

“They are taking our traps so we can’t fish and they’re stopping us from providing for ourselves, for our own food so we went out to challenge that and to show kind of what we are up against,” he said.

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Mi’kmaw Fishing Rights 

Chief Mike Sack wrote a letter in support of the food fishery.

It said Syliboy will be fishing snow crab for food, social, ceremonies on behalf of Sipekne’katik First Nation.

Because the two crab traps were seized, Sack is considering legal action.

“They completely overstepped now it’s very well documented in court that we have a right to food social and ceremonial on the land and the sea and I think DFO really messed up on this one,” Sack said.

Syliboy’s brother, Mike Willis has been fishing lobster for about six years.

He said he loves fishing – but not when the DFO is watching.

“It’s in our right, we’re here doing what we’re supposed to be doing, there’s nothing wrong with it,” said Willis.

crab traps
Mike Willis on deck preparing gear for crab fishing. Photo: Angel Moore/APTN.

The boat belongs to Syliboy, but Allan Corporon is aboard because he is a licensed captain.

He has mentored Syliboy for the last three years, and supports the Mi’kmaw fishery.

Corporon is Acadian, which sometimes makes him the target of ridicule from other non-Indigenous harvesters.

“Not as bad as the natives have. People call us names. But I just walk away and ignore it,” said Corporon.

Last fall, Sipekne’katik First Nation launched their moderate livelihood fishery in south western Nova Scotia.

It was met with backlash from non-Indigenous fishermen who say the fishery is illegal.

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the treaty right to hunt, fish, and gather to earn a moderate livelihood, known as the Marshall Decision.

Syliboy’s traps came up empty, fishing under the constant watch of the feds is a distraction to a successful catch.

“I promised the community a feed so I am a man of my word, I’m going back out, but I guess it’s back to the drawing board right now,” said Syliboy.

crab traps
Captain Allan Corporon is an Acadian fisherman who supports the Mi’kmaw fishery. Photo: Angel Moore/APTN.

The trip out to sea took over 24 hours, and cost about $4,000.

Syliboy said he called DFO and asked when could he would get his traps back.

According to Syliboy, DFO won’t give them back until the investigation is complete.

APTN reached out to DFO to ask about the incident but a response was not received until after this article was published.

According to DFO, “Sipekne’katik First Nation does not hold a Food, social, and ceremonial (FSC) licence for snow crab.

“As a result of an inspection on Sunday, April 11th, snow crab traps were seized. We can also confirm that a fishery officer had a telephone conversation on April 6th, 2021 with the individual involved in this inspection, to make the individual aware that the Department would be enforcing compliance with the    Fisheries Act and associated regulations.”

While Syliboy’s gear was seized, he was not charged by officials.

He said he and his crew will continue to fish, because when he does, the community will have a feast.

Editor’s Note: This article was published prior to DFO replying to our request for information about the seizure. 

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