Mi’kmaq communities in Atlantic Canada are leaving as much as $300 million worth of fishing profits in their traditional waters each year under the current licencing regime! Mi’kmaq communities have a Constitutionally protected Treaty Right to land and sell enough fish each year to provide a “moderate lifestyle” to all community members. Yet Marshall 10 Years Later, a 2009 report by DFO, shows that Mi’kmaq fishers are netting less than $34 million per year or less than $1,000 per community member: http://www.apcfnc.ca/en/fisheries/resources/Marshall10years.pdf .  No one could argue that a “moderate lifestyle” could be provided for that price.

This certainly answers the questions I’ve been hearing from some Mi’kmaq community members lately: “If we have the right to catch and sell fish to provide a moderate livelihood for all community members, why are so many of us lacking in basic housing and other amenities? Why are community welfare rates so high?”.

In 1999 the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v Marshall recognized the Mi’kmaq Treaty Right to fish for commercial purposes provided that just enough fish was taken to provide a moderate lifestyle and no more. No accumulation of weath was intended by the Treaties. The Treaty Right to fish commercially is also subject to government regulation aimed at conservation and protecting fish stock. However, subject to these two restrictions Treaty Rights take priority over the rights of non-Native fishermen. As long as the government permits fish to be landed at all the Mi’kmaq have the right to take as many of those fish as required to provide a moderate lifestyle to community members.

As the Supreme Court of Canada said in Marshall, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out the cost of providing a “moderate lifestyle”. Once that is known it would be fairly easy to determine the net value of commercial landings required to provide that moderate lifestyle to each member of a particular community. This calculation should form the basis for setting the annual quotas allocated to Mi’kmaq communities each year.

I’ve searched the DFO website and haven’t found any evidence that DFO has determined the per capita cost of providing a moderate lifestyle to members of a First Nation community let alone that there has been any agreement with Mi’kmaq communities on that point.  Sure there have been programs aimed at securing licences for Mi’kmaq communities, assisting with the purchase of boats and equipment and training Mi’kmaq fishers and these have met with some measure of success. However, I see no evidence that the annual fishing quotas allocated to Mi’kmaq communities are tied in any way to providing a moderate lifestyle to community members as promised some 250 years ago in the Treaties.

In fact the participation rate of the Mi’kmaq in certain fisheries may have been eroded by the introduction of new non-Native licences as noted in Marshall 10 Years Later.

While these issues are complicated and are no doubt being addressed in modern day treaty negotiations, individual community members are becoming impatient and more needs to be done quickly to ensure that Marshall rights translate into tangible community benefits soon. $1,000 per person does not a moderate lifestyle provide. Is the proper number $10,00 per year? If it is, that’s $300 million a year more than now being earned by Mi’kmaq fishers across Atlantic Canada. That money could go a long way to solving the financial burdens of many communities.


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