Ottawa to allow limited native fishery

LEANNE YOHEMAS-HAYES
Canadian Press
Sunday, October 10, 1999

OTTAWA. Commercial fishermen cheered the news Sunday that Ottawa will step in to limit native fishing, but some native fishermen continue to claim their rights are being trampled on.

Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal announced Sunday he will allow a limited native fishery for two aboriginal bands on the East Coast and allow a commercial fishery to open as scheduled Thursday.

The minister said 33 of 35 native bands have agreed to honour a 30-day voluntary moratorium on lobster fishing while Ottawa comes up with interim guidelines to regulate the fishery.

He said the two dissenting bands in Burnt Church, N.B., and Indian Brook, N.S., _ will be allowed to fish until the end of the month, but under strict limits, including the size of catches, number of traps, and type of fishing gear.

''I'm confident that this will be accepted as a compromise that took into consideration the views of all the groups,'' Dhaliwal told a news conference in Ottawa. He said consultations included provincial ministers, the commercial sectors and aboriginal communities.

Burnt Church natives will be restricted to 600 traps while Indian Brook will be allowed 800. Dhaliwal said those guidelines will be enforced by officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Commercial fishermen in New Brunswick reacted with cheers when they heard the minister had decided against closing the Bay of Fundy lobster fishery.

''Certainly this is great news for us,'' said Jim Wood of the Alma Fishermen's Association. Gary Hurley, of the Fundy East Fishermen's Association, credited

Chief Brian Toney of the nearby Annapolis band for persuading the minister to allow non-natives to fish.

Toney joined a meeting between commercial fishermen and fisheries officials last week and urged the government to maintain the commercial season.

''We sure owe thanks to the First Nations in this area for their support,'' said Hurley, noting relations between the two sides have been friendly and open-minded.

''They didn't need to come forward and support us but they did.''

Dhaliwal's announcement Sunday followed weeks of tensions between native and non-native lobster fishermen after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld on Sept. 17 an ancient treaty allowing aboriginals unfettered fishing rights.

A spokesman for commercial fishermen in Prince Edward Island said he had hoped all native bands would stop fishing, but he was pleased to see guidelines would be imposed on those who persist.

''At least there are some limits. Some limits are better than no limits,'' said Rory McLellan, executive director of the Prince Edward Island fishermen's association.

''What has happened here is a lot better than what was happening before, which was a free-for-all, basically.''

But Curt Bartogue of the Mi'kmaq Burnt Church said his band hasn't agreed to stop fishing because it restricts their right. For him, the setting of traps has taken on a symbolic edge.

''If (Dhaliwal) didn't bring up this moratorium, we would have probably been already pulled out of the water,'' he said.
 
''It's our right to fish and since he is trying to take it away from us it's matter of principle'' to keep traps in the water.

Fisheries officials say Burnt Church had between 4,000 and 6,000 lobster traps at its peak following the court's ruling.

Before the high court's ruling, a previous decision in British Columbia, known as the Sparrow decision, allowed aboriginals to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes.

Bartogue of the Mi'kmaq Burnt Church reserve says the new limit amounts to what native fishermen are allowed to trap for themselves.

''Me, myself I usually have about 20 traps,'' he said.

Reg Maloney, Chief of the Shubenacadie band in Indian Brook, said the guidelines imposed by the minister closely mirror guidelines set by his band.

''I don't think it will affect us at all, really,'' said Maloney, noting his band agreed to end their fishing season Oct. 31 and to abide by limits on catch sizes and trap sizes.

Many non-natives met the Supreme Court ruling ruling with anger, fearing an influx of native fishermen in the off-season would deplete the resource.

Native chiefs recommended last week that the entire fishery close while Ottawa decides how to regulate it.

McLellan, spokesman for commercial fishermen in P.E.I., said government regulations are necessary to keep native fishermen in check.

''Clearly the resource won't sustain that,'' he said. ''Clearly we will be putting at risk the livelihood of all fishermen who fish in the Miramichi Bay.''

New Brunswick natives who refused to participate in the voluntary fishing ban have said they have only a short window of opportunity to catch lobster before the season naturally ends.

But McLellan said natives have been fishing heavily despite cooling temperatures and rough weather.

''The harvest is quite high. It is not running a natural course.

For the past hundred years the fishery has been regulated. This fishery is being conducted totally without regulation. There's nothing natural about that.''

Dhaliwal said he didn't want to discuss how the regulations would affect the earnings of the native fishermen.

''This is a short-term situation,'' he said of the Oct. 31 deadline, after which a more longer term solution is expected to be announced.

''I don't think I want to get into discussing what is defined as a moderate livelihood. . . . This is something that we have to sit around the table and work at.''

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