Disputed lobster fishery turning into cat and mouse game
Thursday, June 1, 2000
BURNT CHURCH, N.B. (CP) _ The dispute over native fishing rights in
northeastern New Brunswick is turning into a high stakes cat-and-mouse
Federal fisheries officers, backed by RCMP patrol boats, headed on to
Miramichi Bay in the pre-dawn darkness Thursday and seized at least 40
native lobster traps _ the biggest single seizure so far this season.
''We just can't have people putting out traps'' whenever they want to,
federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal said in Ottawa.
Hours later, several small native boats from the defiant Burnt Church First
Nation pushed off from shore and, once again, set lobster traps that do
not carry the required, government-sanctioned identification tags.
Fisheries officials vowed they, too, will be seized as the simmering
dispute continues over whose rights take precedence in the valuable
lobster fishery: native treaty rights or Ottawa's right to regulate.
''If they were looking to discourage us, the exact opposite happened,''
said band member James Ward, one of the architects of the reserve's own
fishing management plan.
''We went out and we put more traps back in and we're getting more
donations of traps. If they were trying to discourage us, it backfired.''
Andre Marc Lanteigne, a spokesman for the federal Fisheries Department,
said the department has laws to uphold and conservation measures to
protect, so improperly tagged native traps will continue to be taken.
''We have no choice but to continue to stop any illegal fishing activity,''
There was no physical confrontation between fisheries officers and natives.
The officers struck before any native fishermen were on the water.
However, several RCMP officers in patrol cars watching the action from
shore were asked by angry natives to leave the Mi'kmaq reserve of about
''We persuaded them to leave and we escorted them off the reserve,'' Ward
Lanteigne said the Burnt Church community is split over the fishing issue.
Some band members are fishing with commercial licences under federal
regulations; others are trying to use band-issued tags that are not
recognized by the government.
Ward said the vast majority of people on the reserve support the band's
''Unfortunately, we have a few people caught up in the mentality of working
under DFO,'' Ward said. ''That happens a lot in colonial regimes where
generation after generation has been subjected to federal control and some
people can't think outside the federal box.''
Brian Bartibogue, a native fisherman from Burnt Church, pleaded not guilty
in provincial court Thursday.
Bartibogue is the first and so far the only native fishermen charged since
the Miramichi lobster season opened in late April.
Bartibogue said in the past couple of years, he has lost about 400 traps,
some to fisheries officials and some to furious, non-native fishermen who
destroyed native traps set out of season last fall.
''I have not, to this day, taken traps out of the water because it was
always done for me in one way or another,'' Bartibogue said.
The removal of traps on Thursday brings the total number seized this season
to almost 100: a tiny amount considering the tens of thousands of traps
set by non-native commercial fishermen.
Native fishermen operating under federal regulations have almost 2,000
traps in the water.
Dhaliwal will be in New Brunswick next week and he plans to visit several
first nation communities, but Burnt Church likely won't be on the list.
''Burnt Church hasn't signed an agreement,'' Lanteigne said.
''The minister would prefer to visit with communities that have already
signed. He doesn't want to interfere with the process.''
So far, 22 aboriginal communities in the Maritimes and Quebec have signed
fishing agreements with Ottawa. Twelve have not.
Burnt Church has rejected interim fishing agreements with Ottawa in favour
of working out its own system under rights guaranteed by 18th-century
The landscape of the Maritime fishing industry changed last fall after the
Supreme Court of Canada upheld treaty rights in the case of native
fisherman Donald Marshall Jr.
The Marshall ruling said the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet people have a communal
right to earn a moderate living from hunting, fishing and gathering.
A subsequent clarification by the court said that right is subject to