A Mi’kmaw lobster harvester wants to know what happened to his lobster after finally getting his fishing gear back from the federal Fisheries Department (DFO), which seized it last fall.
The gear had been sitting in a federal fisheries compound since then, and Matt Cope of Millbrook First Nation spent months trying to get it back.
When Cope unloaded his gear this week, he was shocked to find damaged traps with ropes cut.
“Traps aren’t cheap, ropes not cheap,” he said. “When they’re taking it for months at a time, and just all of a sudden giving it back when it’s all damaged, there’s no way we can fish like that.”
Cope harvests lobster off the coast of southwestern Nova Scotia, asserting his treaty right to catch and sell fish to earn a moderate livelihood.
The right was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999. The landmark Marshall ruling said Ottawa can only infringe the treaty right if it has a substantial and compelling purpose.
“I’m pretty determined that it’s our right. That’s what we agreed to 300 years ago,” said the harvester. “We’ve been upholding our end. It’s our right to fish, and I’m going to keep fishing.”
Cope was charged for fishing out of season and without a licence last fall and says his community is supportive.
Chief Bob Gloade said in a statement that “DFO continues to act in bad faith towards our community, at a time when Mi’kmaw first nations are working diligently to develop and implement community harvest plans, with proper input and guidance from our members.”
Cope says the DFO seized 62 of 72 traps. DFO said in an email statement that the traps were returned in the same condition as when they were seized and that the remaining traps will remain in custody as they are part of an ongoing court case.
The department did not say what happened to the lobster. Cope says the catch was worth $7,000 and plans to file a complaint.
“I want to know how much lobster was in those traps, and as far as I’m concerned, every day that they had those traps they were fishing right in their compound,” he said, “and I want the same amount of lobster that they had there. I want the equivalent of that for every day they had my traps.”
Cope says he will harvest lobster again as soon as his gear is repaired, and he is to appear in court on July 18.