Grumbling, complaining but no trouble as lobster season opens
Saturday, April 29, 2000
BURNT CHURCH, N.B. Tempers here were as calm as the ocean Saturday, as the spring lobster season opened on New Brunswick's Miramichi Bay.
Burnt Church, the main trouble spot in the Maritime lobster fishery, was peaceful as native fishermen for the first time eased their boats onto the water alongside non-native fishermen.
It was a major test of the region's newly integrated fishery.
Although there was some grumbling, especially from commercial fishermen in Prince Edward Island, there was no trouble.
''I think everything will go smoothly,'' said Roger Ward, a non-native fisherman from Neguac, N.B., as he loaded his boat at a wharf near Burnt Church.
''I think we have a good group of fishermen here and I don't think anything will explode. But it is up to the government to start doing their job.''
Anti-government feelings were expressed by all sides in the fishery.
The Mi'kmaq people of Burnt Church have deep reservations about Ottawa's efforts to have them abide by federal rules. Non-native fishermen are unhappy with the way the Fisheries Department has handled the situation.
Fishermen at Malpeque Bay in P.E.I. issued a news release calling for the dismissal of federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal.
Their release also called for a public inquiry into the way the department handled the Supreme Court of Canada's landmark decision in the Donald Marshall Jr. case.
The Supreme Court ruled that Mi'kmaq and Maliseet people have the right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing, hunting and gathering based on 18th-century treaties.
Burnt Church fishermen responded to the court ruling last fall by rushing out and setting thousands of lobster traps, even though the season was closed.
Furious commercial fishermen responded by cutting and destroying many of the native traps, leading to a week-long spate of vandalism and violence on the reserve and in nearby communities.
A subsequent clarification by the court said the treaty right is subject to federal regulation.
Ward said he doesn't think Dhaliwal needs to resign, ''but he should smarten up and do his job.''
''I'd agree with a public inquiry,'' he said. ''The government has been very slow in reacting to the situation.''
Dhaliwal has been trying to hammer out agreements with the 34 bands in the Maritimes and Eastern Quebec affected by Marshall.
Ottawa is offering equipment and training in return for a commitment to follow fishing regulations.
So far, there are 19 signed deals or agreements-in-principle. Negotiations on the others are continuing.
Burnt Church is one of the holdouts. Some band members want a deal; others say that would amount to selling their treaty rights.
A community meeting will be held Tuesday to discuss the issue.
Andre Marc Lanteigne, a spokesman for the federal Fisheries Department, said he believes the problem at Malpeque Bay was settled on Saturday.
He said it appears native fishermen from the Lennox Island First Nation can be accommodated through licence buy-backs, leasing arrangements and changes to the aboriginal food fishery.
Non-native fishermen said the Malpeque lobster grounds can't stand increased fishing.
''We now have the equivalent of 13 licences available in Malpeque Bay, so the situation is pretty much fixed,'' he said.
''We are going to attempt to keep fishing patterns as they were before.''
Native fishermen in New Brunswick said there shouldn't be any problem with the spring lobster fishery, which lasts from May until the end of June.
But questions remain about out-of-season fishing.
''The spring is a different story from the fall,'' said Thomas Metallic of Burnt Church, as he prepared to take one of the reserve's commercial boats out to fish.
''This is a commercial season.''
Lanteigne said there's no solution yet to native fishing in closed seasons.
''It will have to be decided if preventing the communities from fishing outside the regular season is an appropriate infringement on the treaty right,'' he said.
''At this point, it's not clear. Our desire is to have an orderly fishery that's manageable. Therefore, having everyone fish at the same time is a lot better, it's desirable.''