Natives agree to Rae proposal
Band members to help fisheries officers count and remove untagged lobster traps

Special to The Globe and Mail with a report from Brian Laghi in Ottawa.
Wednesday, September 20, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. -- For the first time in their five-week dispute over lobster fishing in Miramachi Bay, members of the Burnt Church native band will work with federal fisheries officers today, following a deal brokered late last night by mediator Bob Rae.

Band members have agreed to join federal fisheries officers on the water, count all the traps and remove any untagged in the bay, as a concession to non-native fishermen and as a sign of goodwill.

"I think it is a sign of good will," Mr. Rae said last night. "I think it is a sign that things will get done. I've taken it in a very positive way and I think we should move forward on it."

The former Ontario premier has agreed to continue mediation to strike a longer-term solution. Mr. Rae had given both sides in the dispute a deadline of 5 p.m. yesterday to settle their differences, but continued talks well into the evening as hundreds of angry non-native fishermen gathered on a dock in nearby Neguac, threatening to pull native traps today.

But Reginald Comeau, with the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said last night that he has told the fishermen to give the Burnt Church band a few more days to remove the traps.

He said he was pleased with the tentative agreement.

"I hope the natives do what they said they are going to do. We've been in constant contact with the fishermen in Neguac, and we've told them to wait and see what will happen," he said. "We're willing to give [natives] a few more days."

Earlier in the day, the Burnt Church band agreed to stop fishing on Oct. 7, not as a concession in their fight with the federal government, they said, but because the lobsters have begun migrating to colder waters and are more difficult to catch. Under the band's fishery management plan, which Ottawa says is illegal, the traps were to stay in the water until Oct. 31.

Mr. Rae said he expects the Fisheries Department to respect the Oct. 7 deadline, as long as the band continued to remove traps from the water leading up to that date.

But Burnt Church natives continued to set traps in the bay yesterday, as they have every day since their fall fishery opened on Aug. 10, ignoring recent threats from Federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal that the gear will be confiscated.

Mr. Dhaliwal said yesterday that he was disappointed with the band's actions and said he intends to continue to enforce the law.

"I have emphasized again and again that I have a responsibility for conservation, and for ensuring a fair and orderly fishery that takes into account the needs of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal users," Mr. Dhaliwal said in a statement.

"I assure you that, while still seeking any opportunity for real dialogue in good faith, I will also use whatever regulatory or enforcement tools are at my disposal to ensure the continued viability and sustainability of the fishery."

The number of native traps in the bay is in dispute -- the federal government estimates Burnt Church fishermen have set about 2,000 traps, but the band says fewer than 1,000 traps are in the water.