The St. Lawrence Gulf and Estuary form a complex environment, one that varies with the passing seasons and years. It is a semi-enclosed sea where surface waters react to different forces – tidal currents, winds, atmospheric pressure and the water flowing in from rivers. This complexity makes the marine St. Lawrence particularly vulnerable to environmental incidents such as oil spills. This is the context that led the Mi’gmaq Maliseet Aboriginal Fisheries Management Association (MMAFMA) to undertake the project to create an Atlas of marine St. Lawrence Mi’gmaq and Maliseet sites and their uses by and for its three-member communities.
This project aims to increase the capacities of MMAFMA’s three-member communities – the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk (Maliseet of Viger) First Nation, the Nation Micmac de Gespeg and the Micmacs of Gesgapegiag. Another goal is to enable the communities to identify marine sites of importance to them. More specifically, the project sought to digitalize, map and share Mi’gmaq and Maliseet knowledge associated with traditional and contemporary activities involving the marine environment. Thus, through this project, MMAFMA was able to gather the available information on the uses and sites that are important to its three-member communities and generate geo-referenced databases.
This document and the databases created within the framework of this Atlas project will allow members of the communities to access the information connected to the uses of the marine environments. The information collated in this Atlas can serve as a tool to help the communities plan a rapid and effective response in the event of an incident, such as an oil spill, or facilitate decision-making connected to consultation processes and development initiatives.
The Mi'gmaq Maliseet Aboriginal Fisheries Management Association (MMAFMA) is a not-for-profit organization created in 2012 within the framework of the Aboriginal Aquatic Resources and Oceans Management (AAROM) program of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). The AAROM program aims to assist Aboriginal groups to participate effectively in consultation and decision-making used for the management of aquatic resources and oceans. The mission of MMAFMA is to promote the sustainable management and conservation of aquatic and oceanic ecosystems within the territories and activity zones of the, while promoting their interests and participation in co-management processes and the diversification of their fisheries and aquaculture activities.
Since time immemorial, the Mi’gmaq and Maliseet peoples have inhabited the shoreline and coastal regions of the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence. These nations lived in close contact with nature and had their own resource management system. Their knowledge of animals and plants was handed down from one generation to the next by oral tradition.
Although the Micmacs of Gesgapegiag, the Nation Micmac de Gespeg, and the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation (Maliseet of Viger) share the waters along the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence, these communities are each distinct due to their geographical locations, their socio-economic situations, their cultural singularity and their language.
The Mi'gmaq people have occupied the Mi'gma'gi territory, including the Maritimes and the Gaspé Peninsula, for thousands of years. Traditionally, the Mi'gmaq lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle, depending mainly on fishing and on hunting marine and terrestrial mammals during the summer as well as game during the winter. The Mi'gmaq adapted ingeniously to deep sea fishing activities and notably developed the art of building bark canoes intended for this kind of fishing . Salmon fishing is also an integral part of the Mi'gmaq culture.
The many species of fish that have been documented as part of their catch notably include the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), Atlantic rainbow smelt (Osmerus murdax), Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus), striped bass (Morone saxatilis), American eel (Anguilla rostrata), brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), mackerel (Scomber scombus), haddock (Melanogrammus aiglefinus), Atlantic tomcod (Microgadus tomcod), alewife (Alosa pseudo-harengus), Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) , . Marine mammals, including the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), beluga (Delphinapterus leucas), harp seal (Phoca groënlandica), grey seal (Halychoerus grypus), harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) and Atlantic walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus), were also hunted and crustaceans like the lobster (Homarus americanus) and snow crab as well as molluscs such as scallops and clams were harvested too according to texts written in the 17th century .
The Gesgapegiag Mi’gmaqs, officially the Micmacs of Gesgapegiag, according to the nomenclature used by their band council, have participated in the management of the sport fishery on Rivière Cascapédia for a number of years. The place name Cascapédia is derived from a Mi'gmaq word meaning "strong currents" or "large river". Today, the Mi'gmaq fish harvesters of Gesgapegiag are involved in the commercial fishing of several species, including northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis), lobster, snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio), sea cucumber (Cucumaria frondosa) and some groundfish species.
According to available sources, it was during the sixteenth century that the Mi'gmaq settled permanently on Gaspe Bay, forming the Nation Micmac de Gespeg, as designated by the band council. By around 1675, they had maintained ties with European fishermen for several decades at their village of Gespeg, meaning "land’s end". Today, the Mi'gmaq fish harvesters of Gespeg are involved in the commercial fishing of several species, including northern shrimp, lobster, snow crab, some species of groundfish and sea cucumber.
The Maliseet people, known as Wolastogiyik, which means "people of the beautiful river", originate from the valleys of the St. John River and its tributaries, located at the border between the current provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, and also from the state of Maine in the United States. The Maliseets were a nomadic people who largely depended on hunting and fishing, but also possibly cultivated corn . The species fished often included whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis), lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and brook trout . In the wake of numerous conflicts in New England beginning in 1675, the Maliseet were encouraged to migrate increasingly farther north, to the St. John River valley and to the valley of the St. Lawrence . Despite settlement attempts by the Government of Canada – with the Viger Reserve being established in 1827 (it was deeded back in 1869 in response to pressure from European settlers interested by its fertile land), followed by the Whithworth Reserve in 1876 and finally, that of Cacouna in 1891 – the Maliseet resisted the sedentary way of life and today, none live permanently on any of these reserves. Nowadays, the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation (Maliseet of Viger) are involved in the commercial fishery of several species, including northern shrimp, snow crab, certain species of groundfish, green sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) and sea cucumber.
It would have been impossible to produce this Atlas without the contribution of many individuals and organizations. This project would not have been possible without the valuable contribution of the many people involved, notably the fisheries directors from the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk (Maliseet of Viger) First Nation, La Nation Micmac de Gespeg and the Micmacs of Gesgapegiag. We are thankful to the participants to the various study for their contribution and are grateful of the financial support from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to realize this project.