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Mi'kmaq Fisheries Dispute, Nova Scotia, Canada

Mi'kmaq fishers face violence and vandalism as they strive to establish a lobster fishery that will support their livelihoods


The Mi'kmaq fisheries case is a historic and ongoing conflict between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Mi'kmaq people of Nova Scotia, which has sometimes led to violent conflicts between parties involved, including tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous commercial lobster fishers in Nova Scotia.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Mi'kmaq Fisheries Dispute, Nova Scotia, Canada
State or province:Nova Scotia
Location of conflict:Saulnierville
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Live Animals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The 1999 Marshall Decision of the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the right of Mi'kmaq peoples to rely on natural resources to earn a "moderate livelihood". However, this term is not clearly defined and is subject to interpretation. Non-Indigenous commercial fishers have attacked Indigenous fishers, including physically, claiming that the Mi’kmaq are fishing illegally when they do so out of season. The non-Indigenous fishers also claim that they have concerns about negative impacts of out-of-season fishing on the lobster fishery from a conservation standpoint. These accusations do not take into account that the Mi'kmaq fishery is governed by “the First Nation's fisheries own management plan, which incorporates conservation measures” [10]. In addition, the DFO reports indicate that lobster stocks are healthy. Contrary to the position taken by non-Indigenous commercial fishers, Sipekne'katik fishers indicate that they are not fishing illegally, and that their right to fish commercially is based on their protected treaty rights. As such, they are not subject to the legislative authority of the Crown.

Project area:2,500,000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project411,100,000.00
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:12,000
Start of the conflict:2020
Relevant government actors:Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)
Supreme Court of Canada
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
Federal government
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sipekne’katik First Nation (
Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn (
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Sipekne'katik First Nation of the Mi'kmaq people
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Potential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Institutional changes
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Application of existing regulations
Proposal and development of alternatives:Fishery representatives have stated that they had not been adequately consulted and advocated for alternatives to support access for Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC) purposes. An alternative advocated by Donald Savoie, Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at the University of Moncton, is that both parties (Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers) have a seat at the decision-making table [20]. In addition, three parliamentarians put forward the creation of an Atlantic First Nations Fisheries Authority to restore economic control to the Mi'kmaq [21].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:We cannot say this conflict has resulted in an environmental justice success given that treaty promises and Indigenous rights have not yet been upheld. The Mi’kmaq chose to take the initiative and define the term “moderate livelihood” for themselves, as the federal government has clearly not defined this notion clearly and in a way that is understandable to all parties involved.

The Canadian Government needs to implement the Marshall Decision into law in order for environmental justice to be served. People have been hurt and livelihoods disrupted. Nova Scotians continue to witness the resentment and aggression towards Indigenous fishers, yet the conflict stems from the inaction and shortcomings of the federal government.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[6] House Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (2020, November 18). Study on the Implementation of Mi’kmaq Treaty Fishing Rights to Support a Moderate Livelihood. Government of Canada.
[click to view]

[14] House of Commons. (2021). Report of Implementation of the Mi’kmaw and Maliseet Treaty Right to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood.
[click to view]

[1] Livelihood Fisheries Class Action (2021, June). Mi’kmaw Livelihood Fisheries Class Action
[click to view]

[2] Slaughter, G. (2020, October 20). Mi’kmaq lobster dispute: a conflict brewing since the 1700s. CTV News.
[click to view]

[3] Roache, T. (2019, December 5). 20 years ago the Supreme Court ruled on Mi’kmaq fishing rights, so what has changed?. APTN National News.
[click to view]

[4] Conn, H. (2020, April 11). Marshall Case. The Canadian Encyclopedia.
[click to view]

[10] D'Elia, Decembrini. A. (2020, October 8). The Marshall decision and Mi’kmaq commercial fishing rights: an explainer. First Peoples Law.
[click to view]

[11] APTN National News. (2020, September 22). Mi'kmaq Fishing Rights.
[click to view]

[12] Bailey, M. (2020, September 17). Nova Scotia lobster dispute: Mi’kmaw fishery isn’t a threat to conservation, say scientists. The Conversation.
[click to view]

[13] Crystal (2021, September 8). Fisheries. Kwilmu’kw Maw-Klusuawn - we are seeking consensus.
[click to view]

[15] Fanning, L. (2020, October 21). Conflict over Mi’kmaw lobster fishery reveals confusion over who makes the rules. The Conversation.
[click to view]

[16] Smith, E. (2020, September 22). Scale of Sipekne'katik fishery won't harm lobster stocks, says prof | CBC News.
[click to view]

[20] Savoie, D. (2020, October 19). Resolving Nova Scotia’s fishery conflict will require inviting both sides to the negotiating table. The Globe and Mail.
[click to view]

[21] Goodyear, S. (2020, October 1). Mi’kmaw senator says he has a ‘win-win’ solution to the N.S. fishing dispute. CBC News.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[5] CBC News.(2020, November 18). The history of the Mi'kmaq lobster fishery [Video].

[click to view]

[17] APTN News. (2020, October 19). Senator Sinclair implores Canada to do its job in protecting Mi’kmaw fishing rights. Youtube.
[click to view]

[18] NSMikmaqRights. (2019, September 17). 20th Anniversary of the Marshall Decision. Youtube.
[click to view]

[19] NSMikmaqRights. (2019, September 17). Let’s Talk Treaty Fishing. Youtube.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Bryan Dale, Bishop's University ( bdale [at] ubishops [dot] ca ) on behalf of EJ students (ESG350).
Last update05/07/2022
Conflict ID:5774
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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