Mi'kmaq given 24 hours to pull traps

Canadian Press

Burnt Church, N.B. – The federal Fisheries Department is giving defiant Mi'kmaq fishermen a 24-hour deadline to pull their lobster traps out of New Brunswick's Miramichi Bay.

André Marc Lanteigne, a spokesman for the department, said Thursday that a letter has been sent to Chief Wilbur Dedam and the band council at the Burnt Church reserve informing them that the fishery is closed and that all native traps must be removed.

"We have told them they have 24 hours to remove the traps," Mr. Lanteigne said. He said an exact time for the Friday deadline has not been fixed, but that it probably will be late morning or noon.

Mr. Lanteigne said that if the traps are not voluntarily pulled, enforcement action by fisheries officers will be the only alternative.

Meanwhile, so-called Mi'kmaq warriors issued a news release saying they will take "extreme measures" against any enforcement action by the Fisheries Department.

The warriors said they would consider a raid to be a hostile act that calls for "appropriate countermeasures." They were not more specific.

The ultimatum from Ottawa was the latest development in setting the stage for another possible confrontation over native fishing rights on Miramichi Bay.

The situation deteriorated rapidly Wednesday night as attempts at negotiation faltered and finally collapsed. Mediator Bob Rae packed his bags and headed home to Toronto, saying said the two sides are too far apart for mediation.

Mr. Dedam said Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal is not flexible enough and has not shown a willingness to make concessions for peace. "He hasn't budged at all," the chief complained.

But Mr. Lanteigne said the Mi'kmaq reserve has not been conciliatory.

He pointed out native fishermen were still setting traps on Thursday morning and that there was no sign of a letup in their fishing activity, which Ottawa considers illegal. "There have been little, if any, concessions by the band," Mr. Lanteigne said.

Meanwhile, non-native commercial fishermen in northeastern New Brunswick have been rattling their own sabres, warning that unless the Fisheries Department takes action to shut down the fishery, they will.

That could mean a repeat of the violence of a year ago when non-native fishermen destroyed thousands of native traps and sparked a week of violence and vandalism in and around Burnt Church.

There is only one commercial lobster fishery in Miramichi Bay Ñ in the spring. The Mi'kmaq people of Burnt Church have been fishing since mid-August under their own management plan which they say is authorized by 18th-century treaties.

The federal government insists it has the right to regulate the lobster fishery for the benefit of all Canadians. It has been trying to shut down the Burnt Church fishery and there have been several violent confrontations on the water.

Ovide Mercredi, former chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was on the reserve and delivered an emotional appeal for peace.

In Ottawa, Fisheries officials cancelled at the last minute a scheduled briefing of the Commons fisheries committee on the Burnt Church situation. Members were speculating that Mr. Dhaliwal was preparing to go to New Brunswick.