Following is the presentation by UINR’s Commercial Fisheries Liaison Coordinator Hubert Nicholas made to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in Sydney on May 27.

I am the Commercial Fisheries Liaison Coordinator for Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources (UINR). UINR is an umbrella organization that represents the five Mi’kmaq communities of Unama’ki (Cape Breton Island). UINR tries to help the five Mi’kmaq communities and non native communities better manage its natural resources that were given to us by the Creator.

There are five Mi’kmaq communities in Unama’ki that fish snow crab in areas 19, 23 and 24. In total seven of the 13 Mi’kmaq communities fish snow crab on the Scotian Shelf with an approximate population of 10,000 people representing approximately 74% of the total Mi’kmaq population of Nova Scotia (13564 total). This equates to 21.5 licenses in Area 23 and 8.5 licenses in Area 24. In addition to the licenses that the Mi’kmaq communities currently own, one also holds a fixed allocation.

The 30 licenses and fixed quota equates to approximately 176 jobs for the seven communities. These jobs means that 176 families benefit from employment and a sense of well-being and belonging that being part of a community provide.

The money that is generated from the snow crab fishery and the commercial fisheries goes directly back to the community. The Chiefs and councillors of each community determine how to best allocate the money that is generated from commercial fishing enterprises. Money that is generated for each community goes towards essential services within each community such as housing, education, infrastructure, social services, health, community services, job creation, community enterprises and improved well being. Snow crab jobs provided opportunities and increased well being that did not exist prior to the Marshall decision. We now have people training and going back to school to provide more opportunities for themselves and their families.

When you consider the amount of money generated from the fishery and the amount of jobs it creates, that does not equate to a moderate livelihood to each community member. In most communities snow crab revenue is used to help bail out other fisheries that are losing money, in the hopes that the employees can accumulate enough income and enough employment insurance benefits to help them through the non-fishing season. Chiefs and Councils decide for the communities on how best to benefit the most people through work projects and supporting essential services as well as supporting businesses and fisheries that are not profitable in the name of job creation. As you can see there is dependence on the snow crab fishery. We realize the importance of not fishing at all costs and want this resource to be there for generations to come to help our communities and its people, therefore we support science recommendations and advice.

We feel that the definition of moderate livelihood has not been taken seriously. No moderate livelihood agreements have been honoured since the Marshall decision. The Marshall Response Initiative was a great thing for our communities as things were much worse prior to this decision but they are a long way from where we want them to be. More needs to be done to support economic opportunities and employment opportunities within Mi’kmaq communities and more access to the snow crab industry is a start.

The snow crab industry on the Scotian Shelf is in good condition because of the cuts and management decisions that participants made in the past. This resulted in a record high abundance of crab this year as the biomass has reached its peak and now is heading for a decline but the Southern Gulf TAC is 64% less this year than last. This is a natural occurrence in snow crab and something that is easy to predict, whereas prices and political involvement is not.

The TAC is now at high levels never seen before but, we have unfortunately had to live with a low price in the past few years because of the economy. With low prices for crab and increased operating costs communities had to adjust their budgets to compensate and make decisions that affect their community members well-being. Any negative adjustment in quota affects the seven Mi’kmaq communities that fish snow crab and its approximately 10,000 members. This includes the new license that was issued, as well as if the proposed sharing formula was to be implemented. Less quota available for the First Nation communities means less jobs and less money for essential services in its communities.

The IFMP did not support additional access to the snow crab areas of area 23 and 24 as it stated that the fishery is fully subscribed. The seven Mi’kmaq communities of Nova Scotia that fish on the Scotian Shelf have asked for more access prior to the Rhyno decision and were denied just to watch the Minister of the day issue a new license without any fee to a non-native and no benefit to any Mi’kmaq community.

The Supreme Court decision should have been considered prior to making the Rhyno decision. The Rhyno decision made us lose faith in DFO and the entire process and we are left to question if the courts and the federal government are indeed protecting our rights. We are now all wondering how a person can receive a license in this lucrative fishing area without consulting the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia or the fishermen that have been affected. The Mi’kmaq should have first right to more access to this area to help meet the premise of what was promised in the Marshall decision–moderate livelihood. The Rhyno decision took quota away from each Mi’kmaq person and community, and any adjustment to the sharing formula will do the same.

The issuance of the Rhyno license goes directly against the “Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for Eastern Canada, 1996” where “DFO gives special consideration to Aboriginal peoples for commercial licenses, when opportunities arise.” The opportunity was there for the Minister to live up to the Marshall Response initiative and support Mi’kmaq communities in receiving additional access but instead did not. This decision was made with total disregard to conservation, First Nations, and management protocols in place at the time. The Rhyno decision causes First Nation communities to question DFO’s managerial ability. We are left to wonder if DFO considers treaty rights or First Nation community sustainability when making decisions?