NunatuKavut Community Council announced June 28 that they would be extending their communal fishery to cover the coastal waters in the Upper Lake Melville area when the fishery opens on July 7.
While in the years past, the communal fishery for members covered tidal waters from Fish Cove Point and Cape Charles, according to an NCC press release this will be the first time the Aboriginal organization’s communal licence will be applied to the Upper Lake Melville area. “Our contention is that we could very well be and from our view are already under the communal licence it’s just that we haven’t extended it or applied it in the past,” NCC President, Todd Russell said on Tuesday. “We have a history, a long history, involved in a traditional fishery in Upper Lake Melville, our members continue to use it today and will assert that when it comes to fishing, and in particular when it comes to salmon, trout, char, and these types of species.”
Russell said while the NCC had made requests to sit at the negotiating table to ‘negotiate an arrangement that makes sense for members’ for a communal fishery for members in the Lake Melville area, the request has fallen on deaf ears. “We think that that is a very unreasonable approach by DFO,” said Russell.
“I believe what you will see here is a signal that status quo is just not acceptable,” Russell said of DFO’s decision. “The way things currently stand is not acceptable to us as an organization or to our members, and you will see a much more pro active and a much more aggressive agenda on the part of NunatuKavut Community Council,” he adds.
This year, Russell said members in the Upper Lake Melville area would be issued the communal fishing license that was negotiated between NCC and DFO since 2004, for those who choose to fish in the area, however, members will be expected to follow the same regulations.
“They will have to comply with the season which starts on July 7, they will comply with the gear size, with the mesh gear length, the proper markings, proper tagging of salmon, all of those types of things will apply in the Upper Lake Melville,” explained Russell.
Russell says DFO has been informed by NCC what the planned activities for the region will involve. “We have indicated that this is a fishery that respects conservation, that respects our traditions, our way of life and respects the fact that our members must have access to the Upper Lake Melville region for the purposes of fishing for food,” he contends.
“This is an orderly approach, a sensible approach and we would hope that DFO will respect that.”
Russell said the long-term vision for the NCC is to sit at the negotiating table and work out a harvesting arrangement. “We would hope that will get something between ourselves and the Federal crown. We would also hope that we could sort out things between ourselves and the Provincial crown regarding other issues whether it’s harvesting of small game, harvesting of large game, these types of things so there’s many things in the mix but right now we are concentrating on the fisheries aspect of it.”
The NCC held a membership meeting on July 3 to discuss the extension to the communal fishery for the area in question. “No doubt we have been contacted by a number of members about what the organization’s approach is going to be to the fishery this year, particularly in the Upper Lake Melville area.”
Russell said the meeting was around informing members of what actions and decisions the council has taken in the matter and also opens up the floor to members who have concerns or questions to seek clarification. “Our organization will provide support to our members where we can and that support will be reasonable and balanced support,” said Russell.
“My message out to our members is that we must be persistent and we must be diligent in terms of asserting our rights, that more times than not our battles will be won if we continue to go out and practice what’s rightfully ours.”
While Russell says there had been similar actions taken by the Aboriginal organization in the past that resulted in charges, he said he doesn’t recall any of those charges resulting in actual prosecution of their members. “These things were basically dropped or stayed at a certain period of time.”
Russell said the outcome for obtaining the communal fishing license with DFO in 2004 was the result of the NCC’s stance on the issue. “After we had done this over a number of times, after we had indicated that we were going to persist in this, that we were not going to go away, that we have these rights and we were gong to practice these particular rights, DFO decided to sit at the negotiating table and so we sat at the negotiating table and we worked out some of the issues but one of the issues that was not agreed upon or worked out was Upper Lake Melville and so in some ways we are starting there again and trying to clarify the matter for Upper Lake Melville,” he said.
Russell said a NCC member in Lake Melville will officially be issued the tags from NCC under their current communal license and will follow the same guidelines as other southern coastal areas in Labrador.
“Our belief is that this fishery is a valid fishery even under our communal licenses it’s a valid fishery from a traditional, Aboriginal rights perspective.”