Mi’kmaq fishers intend to fight federal charges alleging illegal lobster catch

HALIFAX – A fisherman from a Mi’kmaq community in Cape Breton says he intends to plead not guilty to charges of illegal fishing after his lobster traps were seized last year by federal fisheries officers in southwestern Nova Scotia.

Ashton Bernard, 30, of Eskasoni First Nation, says he will rely on the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Donald Marshall Jr. case.

The Supreme Court ruled that East Coast Indigenous communities have the right to fish for a moderate livelihood, citing peace treaties signed by the Crown in the 1760s.

However, a subsequent clarification of the court’s decision also affirmed Ottawa’s right to regulate the fishery to ensure conservation of the resource.

Bernard’s case is proceeding amid tensions over the launching on Sept. 17 of a livelihood fishery by the Sipekne’katik First Nation, on the 21st anniversary of the Marshall decision.

Since the Sipekne’katik fishery began, federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan has confirmed she is committed to respecting the Mi’kmaq treaty right to pursue a moderate livelihood.

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