by Adam Gough - MMNN Contributor

Saint Mary’s First Nation is located close to Fredericton, New Brunswick and is one of the largest and most vibrant First Nations communities in Atlantic Canada. Businesses run by the band include a popular entertainment centre with two 750-seat halls, a community radio station, CKTP 95.7 FM, and the Wabanaki Development Group, a business development and consulting group, among others.

In addition, Saint Mary’s operates a diverse fisheries sector that includes lobster, shrimp, scallop, tuna, and herring. While some licences are leased out to other Native and non-native fishermen, the band is in the process of upgrading its capacity to fish all of its own licenses.

Lobster, in particular, represents a large portion of the band’s revenues from the fishery sector. Six of the band’s eight boats are used primarily to fish lobster. The band uses the two remaining boats for weir fishing and collecting sea urchins respectively. The band’s boats cover fishing grounds around the Bay of Fundy. Currently, they have boats at wharves on Campobello Island, and at Saint John and in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick. The band also fishes out of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

The upgrade program has already shown dividends, as work completed in 2009-10 resulted in increased catch rates and fuel efficiency. In 2010-11, the band continued to expand the fishery, continuing a three-pronged program that will result in fishing vessel and operation upgrades as well as improved on-shore facilities. Jeremy Paul, Saint Mary’s fisheries coordinator, said that the program will see increased band revenues and employment for community members.

Fishing vessel upgrades undertaken in 2010-11 included electrical and winch upgrades on the Expenditure, general repairs on the Sitansisk I, and an improved electronics package, including new charting systems and marine radios, on the Trophy Bayliner and White Cap VI. The engine on the Trophy Bayliner was also rebuilt, making it more fuel-efficient.

The second phase of the program is fishing operation upgrades which are aimed at improving catch quality and rates for specific species, and, in some cases, at allowing Saint Mary’s to fish their own quota.

In 2010-11, the band purchased shrimp and herring gear, enabling full use of their respective quotas, and new lobster traps which will lead to better catch rates. Finally, the band bought new Mustang immersion suits to increase crew safety and comfort.

Besides vessel and operations improvements, the final prong of Saint Mary’s improvement plan is onshore facility upgrades. According to Mr. Paul, there had been some problems with vandalism at the band’s storage site. Indeed, he reported that a number of years ago, one vessel had been stolen from the band and that, more recently, a truck, ultimately recovered, had been stolen.

In order to improve site security, the band planned to purchase and install extensive fencing, including a 20-foot wide gate. However, they did not complete the work, instead opting to look into purchasing land to build a new fishery compound in 2011-2012. Once completed, the new site will allow for better security, tighter control of inventory, and sufficient space to repair and build equipment.

Funding for the program came partly from the band, and partly from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Atlantic Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative (AICFI). Overall, the improvements undertaken by Saint Mary’s have led to improved fleet efficiency and increased revenues. “We’ve worked hard over the years to get to where we are and we’ve learned a lot,” Mr Paul says. “We’re here to stay.”

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