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Food, social and ceremonial fisheries

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The right to fish for food, social and ceremonial (FSC) purposes is protected under section 35 of the Constitution. It is a collective right, not an individual one. Designated Indigenous harvesters can catch what is needed for themselves and/or their community for FSC purposes. FSC fishing does not provide an opportunity for the sale of catch. It may also occur at various times of the year, which are not always aligned with commercial fishery seasons or areas. Decisions about when a fishery is opened or closed are made through the fish management process.

Infographic: Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC) Fishery in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island

FSC licences

As the right to fish for FSC purposes is communal, the FSC fishing licence is issued to the Indigenous Nation. The Indigenous Nation may then designate some of its members to fish under the communal licence.

FSC communal licences are issued according to the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licences Regulations. Under this type of licence, designated Indigenous harvesters can catch what is needed for themselves and/or their community for FSC purposes. The department evaluates and consults with the Indigenous Nation on any potential changes to these licences.

Respect both on and off the water is a shared responsibility , and understanding Indigenous fishing rights is an important component of this respect. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is committed to promoting understanding and awareness about Indigenous fishing rights, to help ensure sustainable and productive fisheries across the country.


After the 1990 Sparrow Supreme Court of Canada decision, DFO developed an approach to managing FSC fisheries. In that decision, the Court affirmed that the Musqueam First Nation has an Aboriginal right to fish for FSC purposes and that after conservation, this right takes priority. The Court also indicated the importance of consulting with Indigenous Peoples when their fishing rights might be affected.

In 1992, DFO introduced the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy (AFS), to provide a framework to manage fisheries in a manner consistent with the Sparrow decision. Through the strategy, DFO and Indigenous Nations work towards mutually acceptable annual or multi-year  and time-limited fisheries agreements. These agreements contain provisions, such as how much can be fished for FSC purposes, species, gear, area and other factors to co-operatively manage the fishery. AFS contribution funding also supports Indigenous Nations as they build and maintain the technical capacity to manage and exercise their own FSC fisheries, including work by Aboriginal Fishery Guardians, such as monitoring and enforcement, science and technical fieldwork, and community engagement and education.

The treaty right to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood only applies to the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqey (Maliseet) First Nations and the Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik on the East Coast, as they are recognized as the modern day beneficiaries of the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760-1761.  

Management of FSC fishing

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