Fishermen give N.S. one week to curb Indians' lobster-trapping

The Gazette (Montreal)
Monday, September 27, 1999

YARMOUTH, N.S. More than 700 Nova Scotia lobster fishermen crammed into a high-school gym yesterday to hear details of a Supreme Court decision they say threatens their livelihood.

The landmark ruling gave aboriginals year-round fishing rights and resulted in a slew of illegal traps being set by non-status Indians in the past week.

The Sept. 17 ruling gave Micmac and Maliseet Indians unfettered hunting and fishing rights when it overturned the 1996 conviction of Donald Marshall Jr. for fishing eels without a license.

Since then, however, some non-status and even non-Indian fishermen have taken to the waters, illegally assuming the right to fish out of season.

Yesterday's meeting was called to decide whether non-Indian fishermen would set their traps illegally today in protest, but in the end they voted to give fisheries officials a week to crack down on the renegades.

''We agreed to give them a week to rectify the situation,'' Jack Dunn, of the Yarmouth County Fixed Gear Association, said later. ''They've created a great big mess here and they better be prepared to deal with it.''

In the meantime, they hope to get clarification on what the ruling means for non-Indians.

Fisherman after fisherman expressed fears that the expansion of aboriginal fishing rights would deplete lucrative lobster stocks and destroy a way of life that's sustained their communities for generations.

''I've been in this fishery for 39 years ... and I've never been this scared in my life,'' one man told the group, including provincial Finance Minister Neil LeBlanc and local Conservative MP Mark Muise.

Many expressed frustration at having to wait for the lobster season to open Nov. 29 while non-status Indians fish freely. ''There's a lot of anger out there, a lot of mistrust, a lot of confusion,'' said Dunn. ''Some of the fishermen there were 13th-generation fishermen.''

Dunn said he's heard most illegal landings haul in more than 45 kilograms at a time, threatening lobster stocks. He said the fishermen will meet again next Sunday to discuss action if officials don't remove illegal traps.

New Brunswick fishermen have expressed similar concerns that their waters will be overfished.