Officials haul native traps from N.B. bay
No clashes as warrior boats, federal vessels play cat-and-mouse over lobster catch
Wednesday, September 27, 2000
BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Native warriors took to the waters of Miramichi Bay as federal Fisheries Department vessels launched another raid yesterday on aboriginal lobster traps.
RCMP and coast guard helicopters swept overhead as the two sides played cat-and-mouse just off the shores of the Burnt Church reserve in northeastern New Brunswick.
About six native warrior boats raced after 13 Department of Fisheries and Oceans vessels.
The speedier federal boats were able to escape direct confrontation with the aboriginals after quickly seizing several steel traps and destroying some wooden ones.
`They're a bunch of crooks and thieves, stealing our traps - and our lobster, too . . . We were going back and forth, back and forth . . . Really, it was a lot of fun.'
|- Wilbur Dedam Mi'kmaq Chief |
``They're a bunch of crooks and thieves, stealing our traps - and our lobster, too,'' said Mi'kmaq Chief Wilbur Dedam, who was aboard one of the warrior boats.
People from the reserve lined the shore to watch the chase. Just offshore, two native fishermen in a small boat quickly pulled lobsters from their traps, baited their pots, then tossed them back in the water.
RCMP and warriors on the water confirmed there were no clashes.
``We were going back and forth, back and forth,'' said Dedam, calling it a real morale booster for the warriors. ``Really, it was a lot of fun.''
Robert Allain, regional director for DFO, said 18 wooden traps were destroyed by officers at sea while 13 steel traps were seized.
Warrior leader James Ward said natives saw six hard-bottomed inflatable craft and a catamaran, all belonging to the RCMP, launch the operation about mid-afternoon.
Warriors took to the water to form a perimeter around their self-declared security zone.
``It was kind of a cat-and-mouse game,'' said Ward. ``They'd try to move in, we'd go after them . . . They'd grab a few traps here or cut a couple and we'd go after them again . . . We finally got them out past the channel and they took off.''
He called the operation ineffectual - more of a statement to keep non-white fishermen at bay than a conservation or enforcement measure.
The latest raid came hours after native fishermen replaced some of the more than 1,300 lobster traps already seized by government boats and moved others into more productive waters.
But other natives began pulling traps as some Mi'kmaq leaders suggested the fishery could be shut down by Sunday, when natives across the region celebrate Treaty Day.
Ovide Mercredi, senior adviser on native fisheries issues with the Assembly of First Nations, criticized the raid and urged warriors to exercise ``passive resistance, no violence.''
``I don't think the government should be doing this kind of activity when the people only have a few days left for their fishing and there's only a few traps out there.
``I mean, what's the point?'' Mercredi said during an extended visit to Burnt Church reserve.
Mercredi said that the commercial fishermen already have almost all the lobster fishery and their wealth was not threatened by the small native effort.
A surveillance flight yesterday by a coast guard helicopter seemed to confirm native claims that some traps had been pulled voluntarily.
Officials revised their estimates of native traps still in the water to between 250 and 300, down from more than 500 estimated Monday.
Allain said the only remaining traps were left directly in front of the reserve.
Hereditary Chief Lloyd Augustine said lobsters have begun their migration into deeper water and catches have begun shrinking. While the band council has declared its season will end Oct. 7, some fishermen were cutting their losses and taking in the $75 devices.
Before yesterday's raid, native fishermen worked the sunlit waters of the bay in small boats while many federal Fisheries officers grabbed their first full-night's sleep in days.
A two-person delegation left Burnt Church in hopes of meeting Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal, who was scheduled to be in Dartmouth, N.S., to give a speech and participate in a general meeting on native fisheries.
But, late yesterday, Dhaliwal opted to send one of his staff in his place after he was held up by government business in Ottawa.
Mercredi said the delegation would appeal to the minister to call off his officers and ensure the fishery can wind down peacefully.
It's time to start ``building on a new relationship for next season,'' he said.