A minister with the Nunatsiavut government isn’t mincing words with his frustrations over some of the area’s northern shrimp stocks, saying the federal government is violating the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement by restricting Nunatsiavut  access to the resource.

Greg Flowers, Nunatsiavut’s minister of lands and natural resources, said that land claim, ratified in 2005, gives the Nunatsiavut government a right to fish shrimp from two zones off the northern tip of Labrador, which overlap or are adjacent to Labrador Inuit territory.

Those zones, the Eastern and Western Assessment Zones, are currently fished by Nunavut and Nunavik, and Flowers said Nunatsiavut has spent years trying to talk out a quota with the federal government, but has been met with silence. 

After yet another Department of Fisheries and Oceans shrimp quota decision in mid-September with no mention of a cut for Nunatsiavut, Flowers said it’s time for replace talk with action.

He said his government is seeking legal advice on next steps.

“I’m very determined, I’m very disgruntled with DFO and the Liberal government right now,” said Flowers, calling it a “betrayal.”

“I’m willing to go all the way, because I really believe and feel that this is a violation of our land claim.”

Flowers said when he contacted DFO about the September decision he was told he could have a half-hour meeting about the issue with Minister Bernadette Jordan sometime around the end of the month, with no exact date pinned down. But he said that’s too little, too late.

“What’s she going to tell me, that sorry, but we gave it all away? That’s not good enough for me.”

In a statement to CBC, Jordan’s office said “our government understands the importance of the fisheries for Labrador Inuit communities. Minister Jordan will meet with Minister Flowers to discuss the northern shrimp decision and find a collaborative path forward.”

Flowers’ frustration comes after years lobbying for such a quota. The Torngat Secretariat, a board which helps manage the land claim’s natural resources, has in the past also asked DFO for shrimp quota reconsideration in the area.

RCMP officers stand on the Saulnierville, N.S. wharf in front of supporters of the Mi’kmaw fishery on Sept. 20, as tensions continue over the small lobster harvest. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Indigenous fishing unrest

Flowers’ words come as unrest continues in Nova Scotia, as Mi’kmaw fishers with the Sipekne’katik First Nation have faced opposition to their embarking on a small lobster fishery, 21 years after the federal government stated they had a right to a “moderate fishery,” without specifying what that term meant.

That fishery has been met with opposition and protests from commercial fishermen in the area.

“Indigenous people have the rights. I think we even have long enough been dictated to, and somebody else harvesting the fish that’s a resource that we should be entitled to. and I believe that we need to all support each other in doing what’s right,” said Flowers.

We have to stand up for our people, we have to stand up for our rights.– Greg Flowers

A lawyer specializing in human rights and constitutional law said if Nunatsiavut pushes forward with a legal challenge, timing is on their side.

“It’s a strategy that has certainly put this higher up on the political and national agenda than it’s been for a long time, and in order to get some action, maybe that is what’s needed,” said Wayne McKay, a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University’s law school.

Increasing local fishery

Flowers said Nunatsiavut’s talks with the federal government on shrimp have never gotten to the numbers stage, but he is tired of seeing boats fish in their area, without any profits headed to his people.

“Not one cent of this resource is coming to Nunatsiavut, to the people of Nunatsiavut, and it’s going south,” he said.

“In my opinion, it’s wrong.”

Flowers says he’d like to build up a Nunatsiavut-owned fishing fleet for northern shrimp. ((Image courtesy of Aldric D’Eon))

Those boats pay royalties back to Nunavik and Nunavut under their land claims agreements, and Flowers said Nunatsiavut would be interested in that model, as a way to beef up its own fleet.

“As a former fisherman, we have to have our own fleet of boats, we have to have our own fishers that are proud to call themselves Nunatsiavut fishermen,” he told CBC Radio’s The Broadcast.

Flowers said he is tired of getting no response from his federal counterpart, despite leaving voicemails.

Labrador Morning43:37Shrimp quota, MHAs on Labrador issues, NORAD exercise and what’s up with some birch trees

On today’s show, the Nunatsiavut Government called out the federal government for increasing shrimp quotas without including them. We hear why. Labrador’s four MHAs share thoughts on roads, Covid-19 and other issues in their regions. We get details about a NORAD exercise on the go. The leaves of some birch trees in Upper Melville have already turned, but not the colour you’d expect. A woman in North West River wants to know what’s happening. 43:37

“Somebody should get back to you, and at least have a chat, and have a talk and have a meeting. In my eyes you’re not that big that you cannot speak to a smaller government,” he said, adding this isn’t just bureaucratic frustration, but felt widely in Nunatsiavut.

“We have to stand up for our people, we have to stand up for our rights, we have to stand up for our obligation as elected officials, when I see, and I believe, that we’ve been taken advantage of.”

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