Groups urge feds to allow native management of lobster fishery

Canadian Press
Wednesday, May 17, 2000

MONCTON, N.B. A coalition of social and environmental groups wants the federal government to allow a New Brunswick aboriginal reserve to manage its lobster fishery.

Spokespeople representing 28 organizations faxed Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal on Wednesday with a resolution urging the federal government to ''recognize the legitimacy of (fishing) tags issued by the Burnt Church band.''

The resolution also called on Ottawa to stop using a heavy-handed approach in enforcing federal fisheries rules on natives at Burnt Church.

''It's been a confrontational type of approach ... (and) I don't think this is the way to deal with situation,'' said Marc Spence, spokesman for the Tantramar Environmental Alliance.

''(Natives) have a long-term, inherent right to this treaty resource that has to be dealt with now. DFO has to accept Burnt Church's tags.''

As of Wednesday, Department of Fisheries and Oceans enforcement officers had confiscated 38 lobster traps bearing Burnt Church fisheries management tags.

The reserve, located north of Miramichi, N.B., claims it has a right to manage its own fishery under a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last fall.

The court ruled that natives have a right to earn a moderate livelihood from natural resources. However, the court later clarified its ruling to say that Ottawa can restrict native access for the sake of conservation.

Immediately after the decision, many natives in Burnt Church hit the water to fish lobster. The move caused non-native fishermen in the area to
destroy hundreds of native traps.

Ottawa has tried since then to get native bands to sign fishing agreements and fish under their regulations. Many bands have signed, but Burnt Church
continues to hold out.

Some Burnt Church natives are fishing 13 DFO communal licences, with each licence coming with approximately 300 traps.

Some radical band members are refusing to accept the DFO traps and are instead setting traps bearing Burnt Church tags.

The social and eco-group representatives say Burnt Church natives have the right to regulate their own fishery, as long as their system is based on

James Ward, a Burnt Church resident, was in Moncton on Wednesday to thank
the social groups for their support.

''It's outstanding,'' he said. ''The people of Burnt Church really appreciate their support.

''It's great to see social groups willing to support us; groups like this that have a moral conscience.''

Ward said that accepting DFO rule of the fishery would undermine native rights to natural resources.

''To accept their rules is the acceptance of oppression,'' he said. ''It would be a clear infringement of our treaty rights.''