Natives replace seized traps

Canadian Press
Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Burnt Church, N.B. — Native fishermen issued a new challenge to federal officials early Tuesday by replacing some of the more than 1,300 traps seized recently by government boats.

The Mi'kmaq also moved some lobster traps away from shore and into more productive areas in the Miramichi Bay.

"The more traps (fisheries officials) take out, the more we're going to put in until our deadline," Mi'kmaq Leo Bartibogue said, referring to the natives' self-imposed fishing deadline of Oct. 7. "Nobody is going to tell us what to do in our own backyard."

Band spokeswoman Karen Somerville said natives who can gain access to more traps will keep putting them in the water. The natives' move came while many federal fisheries officers grabbed their first full-night's sleep in days.

On Monday, enforcement officers used new tactics in their attempts to end the native fishery, conducting two surgical strikes in broad daylight under the noses of Mi'kmaq warriors.

Fisheries officials said more than 500 illegal traps remain in the water in the northeastern New Brunswick bay, but Ms. Somerville said some of those traps have been lifted by natives themselves. "They don't want to lose their equipment."

The reserve wants a solution built upon its own management plan for the lobster fishery, one that allows for self-regulation and greater access to resources.

The Mi'kmaq argue that last year's decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Donald Marshall case affirmed their treaty right to fish where and when they wish.

The decision originally said that natives can earn a "moderate livelihood" from their catch, but a clarification by the Supreme Court last November said the treaty right is subject to regulation by the federal government.

Federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal has said he is open to negotiating trap limits, he but also warned natives that existing regulations will be enforced.

Burnt Church has been a flashpoint in the dispute for several weeks and the site of a number of confrontations between natives and fisheries officials.

Besides the seized lobster traps, at least three people have been arrested and one fisheries officer was injured when he was hit in the face by a rock.

Shots have also been fired three times since last Friday. No one was wounded.