Natives to observe commercial season

Canadian Press
Friday, October 22, 1999

YARMOUTH, N.S. A Mi'kmaq chief received a standing ovation from hundreds of non-native fishermen Friday night after telling them her band would honour their lobster season.

Chief Deborah Robinson of the Acadia First Nation said natives from the reserve would only fish when the commercial lobster season begins in southwestern Nova Scotia on Nov. 29.

The breakthrough came as tensions were on the rise in northeastern New Brunswick, where federal fisheries officers seized hundreds of native lobster traps in Miramichi Bay.

''It's our feeling we didn't need anyone's permission to fish,'' said Alex Dedam, band manager in Burnt Church, N.B.

''People here are just finding out about the action. There's a great deal of concern that the troubles may escalate.''

In Yarmouth, Robinson's speech was interrupted several times by applause from about 700 non-native fishermen who jammed a local high school.

''I am prepared to entertain your proposal to permit my fishermen to fish together with you in your season to get us over this crisis,'' she told the crowd.

''This arrangement will be on trial basis, without any written agreement, but on an understanding of goodwill and good faith.''

The agreement should ease tensions that have been high in and around Yarmouth since the Supreme Court of Canada ruled last month that natives had the right to fish year-round and without a licence.

Hundreds of non-natives boats have jammed the town's harbour for about a week to protest the court's decision, which non-natives say could lead to the eradication of fragile lobster stocks.

Last weekend, dozens of boats dragged the waters off Yarmouth for unmarked native traps, which were pulled up and destroyed.

A huge rally is planned for non-native fishermen today in Yarmouth. The flotilla is expected to disperse when it ends.

Robinson's announcement came just days after non-native fishermen vowed to strike a deal with natives without Ottawa's help.

The federal government appointed a negotiator to help end the dispute last week. James MacKenzie met for a few hours Tuesday with non-natives leaders, who left saying he knew nothing about the fishery.

In Burnt Church, three large coast guard cutters and a fleet of smaller boats manned by fisheries officers pulled traps in an operation that began Thursday night and ended Friday afternoon.

Terry Boucher, a spokesman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Moncton, N.B., said the action was taken to ensure ''an orderly and regulated fishery.

''The Burnt Church band is authorized to have a limit of 600 traps,'' he said. ''We removed what was in excess. We are satisfied there are no more than 600 in the water now.''

Native fishermen in the Miramichi area have rejected Ottawa's 600-trap limit, saying such a regulation violates the Supreme Court decision.

Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Ernie Fage said Friday he supports one set of regulations for native and non-native fishermen.

Fage threw his support behind a seven-point plan hammered out during a two-day meeting in Bible Hill, N.S., of officials from 60 non-native fishing groups.

''In our view, we need one fishery with one set of rules,'' the minister said, adding non-natives don't oppose native participation in the commercial fishery.

The plan calls for rules managed by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and implementation of 1760 treaty rights without damage to the existing commercial fishery.

Eben Elliott, a fisherman from Wallace, N.S., said he hopes the industry and government will use the proposals to negotiate a fair deal between native and non-natives.

''Without that, natives can jump right in and take the cream off the fishing industry,'' he said. ''Meanwhile we have the same expenses but not as many fish.''{ au:Canadian Press