About Sipkne’katik Lobster Conservation Study

Mi’kmaq have inherent and treaty rights, including the right to procure ‘necessaries’ through fishing, hunting, gathering. Under the Peace and Friendship Treaties signed in the 1700s, codified in the Constitution under Section 35 (The Constitution Act, 1985) and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court under the Sparrow Decision of 1990 (R. v. Sparrow, 1990) and the Marshall Decision of 1999 (R. v. Marshall, 1999), Mi’kmaq have a right to harvest fish for food, social, and ceremonial purposes and a right to fish for a moderate livelihood. Despite this right, its implementation in 2020 by Sipekne’katik First Nation in what is referred to in this document as the “treaty fishery”, led to a months-long, horrific conflict that included violence on and off the water, with “conservation” being given as a reason to protest implementation of the right.  The conservation issue at hand is the unknown impact of the treaty fishery on local lobster populations, particularly in St. Mary’s Bay, with many non-Indigenous commercial fishers expressing concern that the treaty fishery would damage the lobster stock. Given concern that the fishery is ‘fully subscribed’, i.e., that it has as much effort into it that it can sustain, Sipekne’katik intends to relinquish its current commercial licenses to make room for effort in the treaty fishery.

Study rationale

Fishing outside of the conventional regular season may pose a conservation problem by affecting the nature and activity of lobster. Fishing seasons were originally set for biological as well as economic reasons (Wilder, 1954). On the latter, the hard-shelled lobsters harvested in those seasons (when the water is colder) are in the best condition market-wise, and thus are worth more, they haul up and ship better, and selling takes place when the markets are strong. Biologically, they are more likely to survive if put back in the water (e.g., if under-sized), and they are not reproducing (although may still be egg-bearing) (DFO, nd, Cook et al., 2020). On the other hand, in warm water lobsters molt more frequently – giving up their hard shell for a period of growth, during which they are prone to injury and being crushed in full traps (Dadswell, 2020). These soft-shelled lobsters are worth less in a global market, and often go into canned or frozen supply chains, instead of the live lobster trade. Notably, however, fisheries for soft-shelled lobster occur in Maine, where fishing is done year-round, so there is a precedent for sustainable year-round harvesting of lobster (Minke-Martin, 2020). A contemporary review of the justifications for seasons across the Maritimes is warranted, to help identify where data gaps exist, and best practices for year-round fishing elsewhere.

REVIEW | This study will review documents on the rationale for having openings and closings (i.e., seasons) as currently observed in the different LFAs in the Maritimes. What are the biological and economic reasons for the seasons? What aspects of these have to do with conservation specifically? What are the crucial gaps in scientific knowledge specifically in LFA 34? How are things run in Maine and why and how does that system exist year-round? 

COLLECT | This study will draw on DFO protocols and those employed by the Fishermen and Scientists Research Society to develop a lobster sampling program for Sipekne’katik treaty fishers to participate in from June to November, 2021. Data collected may include, but is not limited to, environmental (bottom temperature), morphological (shell condition, weight, length, sex, reproductive status), fisheries (catch, effort, proportion of soft-shelled lobsters per haul), economic (price per pound), temporal (time of day, season), and spatial (location) data. XPLORE: Scenario analysis: Exploring options for treaty implementation and prosperous commercial fisheries

Data management and ownership

All data collected by treaty fishers, or in relation to their fishing operations will belong to Sipekne’katik First Nation. The research team will have access to these data in order to analyze them and to provide recommendations to Sipekne’katik regarding their treaty fishery. Data cannot be shared outside of the research team and Sipekne’katik without approval of both parties for the duration of the study. Once the study is complete, or if it is terminated, data will continue to be held by Sipekne’katik, and they are free to use them or distribute them as they see fit.

The Marine Affairs Program

The Marine Affairs Program (MAP) at Dalhousie University provides an inquiring and stimulating interdisciplinary learning environment to advance the sustainable use of the world’s diverse coastal and ocean environments.

Contact the Lab

FACULTY OF SCIENCE | Marine Affairs Program

Life Sciences Centre, Room 807 | 1355 Oxford Street | PO Box 15000 | Halifax NS B3H 4R2 Canada

902.494.3555 | Fax: 902.494.1123 | |