HALIFAX — Kourosh Rad, owner of Garden Food Bar and Lounge in Halifax, says he removed his popular lobster-based menu items in support of the province's Mi'kmaq fishers.
The Mi'kmaq are in a dispute over fishing rights in southwestern Nova Scotia and have been targeted recently with violence and intimidation. Rad is among a few restaurant owners in the province who have responded to the conflict by boycotting lobster.
“The lobster that we are selling is at the center of the conflict that's ongoing in Nova Scotia,” Rad said in an interview Monday. “We felt like it's a very small gesture that we can make in support and solidarity of stopping the violence that’s taking place right now.”
The RCMP is investigating a fire over the weekend that destroyed a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico containing the lobster catch of Mi'kmaq fishers. For weeks, Indigenous fishers say they've been targeted with harassment, vandalism and violence from commercial harvesters.
Non-Indigenous fishers say they are angry the Mi'kmaq recently launched a self-regulated lobster fishery that harvests the animals outside the federally regulated fishing season. The Mi'kmaq are asserting their treaty right that they say allows them to fish when and where they want.
Rad said he faced some backlash after deciding on Oct. 17 to stop selling lobster, but said the response has been largely positive.
He said he never thought about who was harvesting the lobster he was serving his clients. But now, the owner said he's looking to buy lobster from Indigenous fishers.
“We ask for local foods as much as possible but now we are asking the question, 'where is the lobster from?' Until we figure out the source, we're not going put it back on the menu,” Rad said.
Matt Boyle, co-owner of Dear Friend bar in Dartmouth, N.S., removed lobster from his restaurant's menu last month.
“We wanted to remove the lobster roll as a sign of our solidarity but to also ... expedite conversations of peace or just spread some more awareness," Boyle said in an interview Monday.
But after he posted about the menu change on social media, the responses he received were less than peaceful.
“We had a lot of pretty aggressive forms of hate digitally,” which he said included angry direct messages to the restaurant’s social media accounts and to his personal account.
There was also a “targeted cyber bullying attack” in which people posted one-star reviews to Facebook and Google. Eventually, however, he said the support from his clients and the local bar community has been overwhelmingly positive.
Boyle said the influence of Nova Scotia's restaurant industry could impact the conflict.
“I think collectively our voice could be pretty loud," he said. "We buy a lot of fish, we buy a lot of lobster so we can make a difference."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2020.
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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press