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Canadian police make arrests as tempers flare up in the lobster feud

Lobster trap in a Nova Scotia harbor

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Lobster is Nova Scotia̵

7;s most valuable seafood export

Police in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia have arrested two people amid mounting tensions over an indigenous lobster fishery.

Officers arrested two people for assault when crowds gathered to mark the launch.

Members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation claim they have the right to issue fishing licenses to their own people.

However, non-native lobster fishermen say their boats go out of season and should be stopped.

The dispute comes on the anniversary of a ruling affirming indigenous groups’ rights to hunting and fishing.

This 1999 decision stipulated that all hunting and fishing should be intended for a moderate livelihood – but “moderate” remains largely undefined.

Lobster is Nova Scotia’s most valuable seafood export and the related fishing industry is valued at an estimated $ 500 million (£ 293 million) annually.

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On Thursday, the Sipekne’katik First Nation issued the first licenses for their new self-regulated “moderate livelihood” fishery in the port of Saulnierville. About 200 people gathered on the quay to drop off the boats and a ceremony was held to bless the fleet.

Sipekne’katik chief Michael Sack told the crowd that they would be exercising their constitutional rights as confirmed in the 1999 decision.

“Our problem is not with the commercial fishermen, but with the levels of government that are not protecting our rights,” he said, quoted by CTV. “The commercial fishermen should just step back and let us do our thing.”

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The government hopes to mediate between the two sides

When the new fishery started, a flotilla of boats from non-native lobster fishermen circled the harbor mouth in protest.

Indigenous fishermen later said the lines to their lobster traps had been cut and torches fired at their boats.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said Friday that officers had been on the wharf and other nearby locations to try to calm the situation.

Local media said emotions had frayed among a large crowd gathering on the wharf in Weymouth, about 25 km north of Saulnierville.

“We have arrested two people on the quay in Weymouth,” said RCMP spokeswoman Jennifer Clarke Both, quoted by the broadcaster CBC. “They were arrested for assault and taken away from the scene. They have since been released pending trial.”

She said the police will be present in the area over the weekend.

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Nova Scotia lobsters are valued all over the world

On Friday, indigenous leaders declared a “state of emergency” in response to escalating tensions.

Non-native lobster fishermen are calling on the Canadian government to take action against the new fishery. They say the law that stops lobster fishing for several months is vital for conservation purposes.

They also claim that domestic fishing is actually a commercial operation that removes large numbers of lobsters – although First Nation leaders strongly deny it.

Canadian Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan told CBC Nova Scotia News that she would meet with representatives from both sides of the dispute to discuss “the best way forward”.

She said she was confident that both sides would come to the table for security reasons.

“We have to find a place where we can have good conversation and make sure that we can all listen to each other and not talk to each other. We have to listen to each other and find out how best to resolve this situation.” She added.

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In recent years Canada has grappled with a number of issues affecting the rights of indigenous people.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party came to power and promised to change the country’s relationship with indigenous communities.

Indigenous peoples in Canada have rights that include the right to land, self-determination and self-government, and the exercise of their cultures and customs.

Canada has more than 1.6 million indigenous people, including First Nations, Inuit, and Metis, and they make up about 5% of the national population.

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