The Mi’kmaw communities of Acadia First Nation, Bear River First Nation and Potlotek First Nation have all developed moderate livelihood fisheries and have moved to implement them, both with and without government approval.
Acadia and Bear River First Nations launched a joint fishery for elvers (baby eels under 10 cm in length), known as katew in the community. The plan, developed in April, allows for up to 115 kg of elvers to be harvested on any of the 19 watersheds in the area, with a maximum of 35 kg per person. Harvesting is to be done with hand nets, fyke nets, elver pots and elver traps.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) currently has an experimental elver fishery that allows for 10,000 kg to be caught, covering 30% of the available fishable habitat, worth $38 million in 2018. While the current plan does not include eels, the plan says that they may be covered under a fishery in the future.
The plan, posted on Acadia First Nation’s website, says the communities are establishing this fishery as an interim management plan, and that they intend to document the upstream migration of elvers on selected rivers to identify potential locations for a future elver fishery on those rivers. Acadia and Bear River First Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
The DFO confirmed that it had received the communities’ plan but had not approved it, with a spokesperson for the department saying: “At this time, DFO has not authorized any moderate livelihood fishing plans for elvers, but the Department is in active discussions with treaty communities that have developed fishing plans.”
While the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada lists American eels as threatened, the communities maintain that eel populations have been increasing since the late 1980s, and that record catch levels in 2018 “indicate that this species can support some support level of Mi’kmaq livelihood harvest.”
Potlotek First Nation announced its own moderate livelihood fishery starting in June, which would see the community able to set 700 lobster traps during the regular lobster season on and near Cape Breton Island.
“We didn’t sign any agreements – I told my community members that we wouldn’t. Through talks, we were able to come to an understanding with DFO,” said Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall in a statement.
“We know that this is an interim measure, but it is a good first step. We will be working with DFO to see that the needs and expectations of our communities are met, in relation to the number of traps currently allocated,” Marshall continued.
The plan comes after Mi’kmaw harvesters saw their gear and equipment seized last year, when non-Indigenous fishers attacked the moderate fishery operations of numerous Mi’kmaw communities.
“I have been clear to the Minister that 700 traps is insufficient. We want to see our people be able to earn a good, honest living. For us, that included doing so through what has been a part of our culture since time immemorial – fishing,” said Marshall.
In response, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan commented on the community’s plan, saying in a statement, “This marks an important step forward that demonstrates Canada’s willingness to listen to the individual needs of communities, to support their vision, and find common ground that maintains a sustainable fishery and sees community members on the water and able to sell their catch.
“In working together to implement this moderate livelihood fishing plan, we will lay the groundwork for future advancements,” Jordan said. “Reaching this understanding, which recognizes the rights and interests of Indigenous communities, will help to further advance Potlotek’s vision of self-determination and economic self-reliance.”