A Mi’kmaw fisherman says he was forced to barricade himself inside a lobster pound in southwest Nova Scotia Tuesday night while outside a mob burned and vandalized vehicles, and called for him to relinquish his catch.
Jason Marr said he had just returned from lobster fishing with his two daughters on Tuesday evening when he heard that a group of commercial fishermen were threatening to burn his boat and take his lobster.
“So I decided that it wasn’t a good idea to keep them there, and I loaded up my van and called a friend of mine and he told me he had somewhere I could store them for a while,” Marr told CBC’s Information Morning Wednesday.
This comes after weeks of unrest in the province’s southwest, sparked by the launch of a “moderate livelihood” lobster fishery by the Sipekne’katik band outside the federally mandated commercial season.
Just last week, a Mi’kmaw fishing vessel was destroyed in a suspicious fire at a wharf in the community of Comeauville.
Marr said he believes he was followed to the Pubnico-area lobster pound where he took his catch, and the facility was soon surrounded by hundreds of people.
“They said they were coming in to take the lobster,” Marr said. “They told us they were going to come in at midnight and burn us out, screaming a lot of different profanities at us.”
Footage shared online
Marr captured about an hour of video footage of his time barricaded inside. At one point he briefly steps out an entrance that appears to be guarded by several RCMP officers who tell him to go back inside.
Several other videos were shared on social media overnight. Some show a white van, which Marr said belonged to a friend, on fire. Marr said his truck was also vandalized.
“They slashed the tires. I watched one guy pee in the driver’s seat of my truck. Another guy poured a jug of some antifreeze or something down inside my gas tank. Another guy poured a jug of something down the vents in the heaters of my truck.”
Marr said that eventually, RCMP took him by the arm and forced him to leave the building, and he stood outside and watched as the mob broke windows and carried out lobster in crates.
“They totally annihilated that building, just tore it all apart. They took all the lobster.”
Video shared Wednesday morning shows piles of banded lobster scattered on the ground outside the lobster pound.
Social media posts being circulated by people defending the raid said egg-bearing female lobsters, which are not supposed to be harvested, were found inside the pound, along with dozens of crates of frozen dead lobster.
Images of those findings were also being shared on social media.
Brendon Coulstring, who works at the facility in the Pubnico area, said he was the one who let Marr into the lobster pound Tuesday night, and was there to witness the ensuing clash.
Coulstring said the dead lobster did not actually belong to the Mik’maw fishermen. He said it’s common practice for workers at the plant to freeze lobster from the commercial fishery that are found to be weak or dead, and sell them for fertilizer or other uses that don’t involve human consumption.
“All the lobsters in there right now are commercial fishermen’s dead lobsters from the season that they’re trying to blame on the Natives and saying that the Natives put them in there and they didn’t,” said Coulstring.
Coulstring said he has tried to stay neutral in the ongoing dispute over the lobster fishery, but after Tuesday night he said he “can’t ever go on the fishermen side whatsoever.”
“The way that they acted, that was not a peaceful protest. That was an angry mob trying to burn our building down and trying to ruin it. They ruined our building. They cut the power in the building so that the lobsters in the tank wouldn’t get air and they didn’t get air for about two hours.”
RCMP said in a news release Wednesday that officers responded to two incidents in southwest Nova Scotia Tuesday night — the clash in the Pubnico area, and another at a lobster pound in New Edinburgh in the neighbouring county of Digby.
RCMP said they’re investigating mischief and threats in relation to both incidents, and were still on the scene in New Edinburgh where there were large crowds.
The Mi’kmaw right to operate a moderate livelihood fishery was affirmed 21 years ago in a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Donald Marshall Jr.
The court later said the federal government could regulate the Mi’kmaw fishery, but must justify any restrictions it placed on it. No such restrictions have been defined in the intervening years, and Mik’maw fishermen in Nova Scotia continue to call for the federal government to define and protect their treaty right.
Meanwhile, commercial fishermen take issue with the Mi’kmaw fishery because it operates outside their fishing season, which doesn’t start until November. They claim harvesting earlier than that is a threat to the fishery’s sustainability, and have been protesting the Mi’kmaw fishery.
In a statement released to media Wednesday morning, Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack said he believed Tuesday’s events were “retaliation for our efforts to move the Moderate Livelihood Fishery forward.”
He said at least one of the lobster pounds was owned by a buyer of Sipekne’katik’s lobster.
“We need to fully assess the damage, but it has the potential to be a substantial hit to our bottom line particularly since we are harvesting right now,” Sack said.