First Nation Stakes Claim To NS Elvers

By Ben Hamill - April 08 2021
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First Nation Stakes Claim To NS Elvers

First Nation treaty rights are again under the spotlight following a recent Nova Scotia incident involving federal fishing authorities and Sipekne’katik fishermen’s right to fish for a modern livelihood. Officers a little over a week ago confronted several fishermen as they were dipping for baby eels - a highly regulated natural commodity in a multimillion-dollar fishing industry.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada earlier this year announced new restrictions limiting the size of baby eels caught under food, ceremonial and social licenses to 10 centimetres. According to the provisions of the latest limitations, no FSC licence permits for the catching or retention of elvers under the new minimum allowable size.

The latest restriction was according to a DFO statement implemented over concerns about conservation and the protection of the American eel.

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The Right To A Better Life

Earlier this week, Mi’kmaw Chief Mike Sack reportedly called a meeting to discuss the charging of the 14 people found fishing for elvers at a river in Nova Scotia. Sack on his way into the meeting told members of the press that he had decided to call the gathering so as to discuss the way forward, as well as how to support those who had been charged. He added that a video taken of the March 29 incident appeared to show officers harassing First Nation fishermen, whose fishing gear had been seized in the process.

Sack furthermore pointed out that those charged were doing no more than exercising their right to creating a better life and livelihood for themselves and their families. He said Sipekne’katik is now in the process of compiling a management plan that will govern an elver fishery – not unlike the livelihood lobster fishery launched in September last year.

Multimillion-Dollar Industry

Baby eels – or elvers – are sold for thousands of dollars per kilogram. Tiny and transparent at the time of the catch, they are shipped off to Asia where they are then raised to adulthood for food purposes.

According to the official data released by the DFO, the price per kilogram of baby eels has since 2011 averaged at roughly $3,300 p/kg. This price however peaked at $5,200 p/kg in 2019 – pushing the value of the commercial elver fishery to nearly $39 million for that year alone. The fishery runs from April to early summer every year.

Sack and those under his governance are however ignoring the restrictions imposed on the industry in February, with the Mi’kmaw leader saying Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan has no say in the governance of First Nation fisheries and treaty rights.  

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