New Brunswick natives vow to continue fishing

Canadian Press
Thursday, October 7, 1999

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. It appears the truce in the Maritime lobster war will be short-lived.

Native fishermen at the Burnt Church reserve, the flashpoint in the dispute over aboriginal fishing rights, turned their backs

Thursday on a moratorium suggested Wednesday by the Atlantic chiefs. They said they'll head on to the cold waters of Miramichi Bay as soon as they get 1,000 new lobster traps to replace those destroyed last weekend by angry non-native fishermen.

The replacement traps are expected as early as today. The native fishermen also said they'll wait for the weather to improve.

''I know this is going to provoke the white people, I know it's going to piss them off,'' said native fisherman Clarence Dedam of Burnt Church.

''But we have to take a stance. It's all right to fish. We waited more than 200 years to fish and we're going to fish.''

The mood was defiant and euphoric as fishermen and other band members poured out of a private meeting on the reserve with Chief Wilbur Dedam, who presented the moratorium proposal.

Late Wednesday, the Atlantic chiefs agreed to ask native fishermen to observe a 30-day voluntary shut down of the Maritime lobster fishery, which has been rocked by a Supreme Court of Canada ruling granting Mi'kmaq and Maliseet treaty rights to year-round, unlicensed hunting and fishing on the East Coast. They also asked Ottawa to impose the same ban on commercial fishermen.

But when Dedam put the idea to Burnt Church members, who have been the most determined to take advantage of their treaty rights, he was told there would be no backing down.

''This community is traumatized,'' said band manager Alex Dedam.

''But we're asking the police and fisheries officials to ensure we have an unobstructed fishery. It's our right and we intend to exercise our right. We're going to go fishing.''

Natives have set roughly 12,000 traps in the Maritimes since the Sept. 17 ruling-a figure dwarfed by the roughly two million traps annually set by commercial fishermen.

Federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal said he wasn't concerned by the decision by Burnt Church natives. He noted bands have until Saturday to decide whether to stop fishing.

''I'm confident that people will abide by this position that they all took together as chiefs,'' he said.

''I'll encourage them like I always have to show leadership and wisdom.''

Meanwhile non-native fishermen were bracing for a possible moratorium on lobster catches in the Bay of Fundy.

Representatives for fishermen in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were invited by letter to meet with fisheries officials in Truro, N.S., today to ''discuss the recommendation to have a 30-day moratorium on all lobster fishing in Atlantic Canada.''

Lobster fisherman Gary Hurly said he suspects officials will postpone the region's fishery, scheduled to open next Thursday.

He said that could cause considerable hardship for the area's 94 licence holders, who make between $20,000 and $30,000 a year.

''Eighty per cent of our income is caught in the first three weeks of our lobster season,'' said Hurly, who estimates there are about 280 local fishermen.

''As the season progresses . . . it would be almost useless for us to put our gear in the water.''

Lobster stocks fall drastically by mid-November because of migratory patterns and cooler weather conditions, he said.

Hurly said an average first haul of the season draws several thousand kilograms of lobster, but in November the haul drops to less than 100 kilograms.

''You have to realize that most of us that do fish live in areas where there's not much else to do,'' said Hurly, whose two grown sons also fish.

''It's not like we can go downtown and get a job.''

If a ban on fishing is ordered, Hurly said the federal government will have to offer compensation.

But Dhaliwal said that was not an option.

''Anytime you get into compensation, everybody wants to be compensated. Compensation is not anything that I'm looking at, for anybody,'' he said, adding he has assured fishermen's unions that he will consult them before deciding on a ban.

Earlier Thursday, native and non-natives attended a prayer vigil in Burnt Church, appealing for calm and peace.

''It's time the power of the white man was diminished and that we see each other on one level,'' said Nan Creaghan, a non-native woman who attended the service.

Police were investigating several violent incidents in and around Burnt Church, although there have been no arrests.