Burnt Church heats up, again

The Edmonton Sun
Monday, May 1, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. The calm that characterized the opening of the spring lobster season on New Brunswick's Miramichi Bay could be deceptive.

Even as native and non-native fishermen in the Maritimes head out today to haul traps they set on Saturday, dissension is growing on the Burnt Church reserve in New Brunswick, the scene of a violent fishing dispute last fall.

"A lot of people are really pissed off," said James Ward, one of the architects of the reserve's own fisheries management plan.

Ward said some members of the reserve are angry because a number of native fishermen, with the support of at least one band councillor, decided to accept the authority of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and use federal tags to mark their lobster traps.

"By accepting the tags, they're willingly giving consent to DFO being the authority," Ward said.

Ward has been working for months on a management plan that would involve the use of the reserve's own tag system.

He said the reserve plan would guarantee access to more fishermen than are allowed under the communal licence imposed by Ottawa for the spring lobster fishery. Ward said there will be a community meeting on Tuesday at Burnt Church to discuss the issue.

Burnt Church is one of several Maritime bands that have rejected an interim fishing agreement with Ottawa in favour of working out their own system under rights guaranteed by 18th-century treaties.

The Indian Brook band on Nova Scotia's eastern shore has also snubbed Ottawa and is openly defying the federal government's authority.

On Friday, DFO seized 20 traps, about 450 kilograms of snow crab and a fishing boat that had been hauled in before for the same offence.

Andre-Marc Lanteigne, a spokesman for DFO, said yesterday that the four people on board are affiliated with the band, but that the boat is owned by a non-native.

"Charges are being considered against the owner of the boat," he said, adding that the fishermen might be charged with fishing in a closed zone.