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Commercial Fishing



Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, have announced the appointment of Allister Surette as Federal Special Representative, a neutral third-party who will communicate with and rebuild trust between commercial and Indigenous fishers in Atlantic Canada.

Mr. Surette will gather the different perspectives on the issues, seek to build understanding, and make recommendations to the Ministers of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and of Crown-Indigenous Relations, as well as to the public, so parties can move forward toward a positive resolution.

The Federal Special Representative will begin his work immediately. His initial priority will be to meet with Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq and commercial sector leaders and harvesters to listen to concerns, communicate information, and foster dialogue with the objective of decreasing tensions and preventing further escalation of this conflict.

In the coming weeks and months, the Federal Special Representative will meet with commercial leaders and harvesters in other parts of Atlantic Canada, Indigenous leaders in Nova Scotia and in other parts of Atlantic Canada and the Gaspé region of Quebec, provincial governments, and others as appropriate.

Commercial and Indigenous harvesters have been fishing side-by-side for decades. While work continues with Mi’kmaq communities on implementing their Treaty rights, the appointment of this Federal Special Representative will help all parties gain a better understanding of the issues in the region and will provide advice on ways to repair and continue to improve relationships going forward. Discussions facilitated by Mr. Surette will provide a structured forum to address genuine questions and concerns from those involved, and to foster long-term cooperation.

The right to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood is a right stemming from the 1760-61 Peace and Friendship Treaties, reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada under the Marshall Decision. The Government of Canada is dedicated to implementing this right.

Much work has been done since the Marshall Decision to advance Indigenous fisheries and implement their Treaty Right, but there is still more to do. Fishing is a main economic driver in coastal communities and we will continue working diligently on a path that ensures a safe, productive, and sustainable fishery for the benefit of all harvesters.

Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, said:  “Commercial and Indigenous harvesters have been fishing side-by-side for decades and we need that to continue. You have shared the wharves, and we must find a way to share the resource as well. While the Government continues to work directly with the Mi’kmaq, nation-to-nation, this structured forum, led by the well-respected Allister Surette, provides the right environment to ensure all voices are heard throughout the process. A peaceful resolution is achievable, and this will strengthen our fisheries and our communities.”

Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations , said: “It has been over 20 years since the Marshall decision reaffirmed the right of the Mi’kmaq to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood. This story started in 1760-61 when the Crown signed Peace and Friendship Treaties with the Mi’kmaq people. We need to uphold and implement the spirit and intent of these Treaties which will be done in partnership. We continue to work with Mi’kmaq communities in Nova Scotia, including through the Recognition of Indigenous Rights tables, on nation-to-nation conversations to implement Treaty rights and their visions of self-determination. Mr. Allister Surette will support this continued work by listening to Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers about their concerns and how we can all continue to walk the shared path of reconciliation. ”

Allister Surette, Federal Special Representative, said: “It is with great humility and enthusiasm that I begin my work as Federal Special Representative. I will be listening carefully to the concerns of the treaty nations whose rights were affirmed in the Marshall decisions, as well as stakeholders in the fisheries sector. I look forward to creating a forum for respectful dialogue so that, together, we can move forward.”

Quick facts

  • The 1999 Supreme Court of Canada Marshall decision affirmed a treaty right to hunt, fish, and gather in pursuit of a “Moderate Livelihood” based on the 1760-61 Peace and Friendship Treaties.There are 35 Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy First Nations in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the Gaspé region of Québec who are affected by the Marshall decision.
  • The Marshall ResponseInitiative provided affected First Nation communities with licences, vessels and gear in order to increase and diversify their participation in the commercial fisheries and contribute to the pursuit of a moderate livelihood for First Nations members.
  • The Atlantic Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative, launched in 2007, provides funding and support to Marshall communities to build the capacity of their communal commercial fishing enterprises and to strengthen community economic self-sufficiency.
  • Additionally, Fisheries and Oceans Canada began in 2017 to negotiate time-limited Rights Reconciliation Agreements on fisheries and in 2019, Fisheries and Oceans Canada signed two Rights Reconciliation Agreements with the Elsipogtog and Esgenoôpetitj First Nations (two Mi’kmaq communities in New Brunswick); and the Maliseet of Viger First Nation (Quebec).
  • Nation-to-nation Rights Reconciliation Agreement negotiations between Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Indigenous communities impacted by the Marshall decision in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Quebec are ongoing.
  • The Government of Canada is working with Indigenous groups at over 150 discussion tables across the country to explore new ways of working together to advance the recognition of Indigenous rights and self-determination. These discussions represent more than 500 Indigenous communities, with a total population of nearly one million people.