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A Growing Number of Montreal Restaurants Boycott Nova Scotia Commercial Fisheries Over Violence Against Indigenous Lobstermen

Lucille’s Oyster Dive, Maestro’s SVP, and Beba were the latest to pledge their support to the Mi’kmaq tribe

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The number of Montreal restaurants boycotting lobster from Nova Scotia’s commercial fisheries is snowballing after news of rampant violence and racism against lobstermen of the Mi’kmaq tribe.

Garde Manger and Joe Beef restaurants were the first to join the boycott by pulling commercially caught Nova Scotia lobster from their menus. Beba, Lucille’s Oyster Dive and Maestro’s SVP have since signed on, reports Karennenhawi Goodleaf, the Kahnawake resident who initiated the boycott.

“While I was watching the whole situation I was thinking to myself ‘I wish there’s something I can do,’ but there’s a pandemic and I’m home with a little baby. But I saw an article saying some of the restaurants in Nova Scotia were starting to boycott commercial fisheries over there,” Goodleaf told CTV News.

In a message posted to Facebook this morning, celebrity chef Chuck Hughes, who owns Garde Manger and Le Bremner, said, “After seeing the intimidation and violence towards the Mi’kmaq lobster fishermen in Nova Scotia, I have stopped serving lobster at our restaurants. It is the very least I can do. If there is one thing that I have learned from being welcomed into Indigenous communities is that as a non-Indigenous Canadian, we have to learn more and we have to do more.”

Hughes recently starred in an Aboriginal Peoples Television Network television show called Chuck and the First Peoples’ Kitchen, in which he is filmed visiting Indigenous communities around the country to learn about their culinary techniques and traditions.

Meanwhile, Lucille’s Lobster Dive has switched the source of the lobster in its beloved rolls from Nova Scotia to Maine, at least for now. “It’s a temporary solution as the cost is much higher to us. We have just gotten the contact for an Indigenous fishery in Nova Scotia, so we will be exploring that option further, as we want to show our support to the Indigenous fishermen and not show our support to anyone inciting hate crimes,” the restaurant told Eater.

On October 17, a facility storing lobster caught by Mi’kmaq fishers was burned to the ground. A few days prior, a mob of about 200 vandalized two Nova Scotia facilities that store catches from Mi’kmaq fishermen, hurling rocks at windows while employees were stuck inside and setting fire to a van. Before that, Mi’kmaq-owned traps were being ransacked, and a boat belonging to a Mi’kmaw fisherman was lit on fire.

Though the conflict between Nova Scotia commercial and Indigenous fishers spans decades, the recent spate of violent attacks toward Mi’kmaq fishermen was precipitated by the opening of the Sipekne’katik First Nation’s fishery, which operates beyond the federally regulated lobster season.

Commercial fishers have vociferously opposed the Mi’kmaq operating out of season, but their legal right to do so extends as far back as 1752; the Peace and Friendship treaty stipulates that the Mi’kmaq have a constitutionally protected right to fish year-round and earn a moderate livelihood selling their catch without a commercial license. A 1999 Supreme Court ruling reaffirmed that right. (The lobster fishing season in southwest Nova Scotia begins in a few weeks, and commercial fisheries are forbidden to operate until then.)

Non-Indigenous fishermen worry about the impact on their businesses if the lobster stock is depleted out of season. But Susanna Fuller, the vice president of operations and projects at Nova Scotia-based NGO Oceans North, says that with only 500 traps set out by the Mi’kmaw, this isn’t a conservation concern.

“If you compare this to the lobster fishery writ large in Atlantic Canada or in the State of Maine, the traps are a small fraction of the actual effort. In Atlantic Canada, we have about 3,000 lobster licenses. The average number of traps [per license] is 300. So that’s 900,000 traps, and this is far less than that,” she tells Hakai Magazine.

Though Goodleaf said the response from local Montreal restaurants has been inspiring, she told CTV that “a lot of them don’t actually know where they get their seafood from.”

A former maritime lobsterman and current Montreal restaurant worker, who requested anonymity for the safety of his Indigenous family members, says, “There are a lot of restaurants that buy through a food supplier. But you can always know where your fish is coming from if you ask. If you don’t ask, they’re probably not going to tell you. But you can choose to buy, or not to buy, from a specific place. If you don’t know where it’s coming from, it’s because you don’t want to know.”

Speaking of the atrocities committed by the commercial fisherman, that same source says, “They are going at it like bullies. You can’t go around burning warehouses and beating people up. I mean, you can voice your disagreement and you can try to come to a solution. They just want what they think they’re owed, but they aren’t owed shit.”

Goodleaf continues to update her Facebook post as Montreal restaurants respond to her request to stand in solidarity with the Mi’kmaq community.