East Coast Indians to keep fishing

The Gazette (Montreal)
Thursday, September 30, 1999

OTTAWA. East Coast Indians will not undertake a self-imposed fishing moratorium, amid mounting anger by non-aboriginal commercial fishermen over a Supreme Court ruling upholding their unlicensed fishing rights.

After a two- day meeting at which 35 Atlantic chiefs pondered how to deal with the Sept. 17 court decision, they called for more talks with government and industry officials.

''There was no possible way that they could justify asking their membership to pull their boats out of the water,'' Rick Simon, a regional vice-chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said yesterday from Fredericton, N.B.

Non-Indian fishing groups had hoped the meeting would lead to a moratorium until Ottawa and the provinces can establish new and clear regulations.

''The mood is anger, anger, anger. Strong anger,'' said Michael Belliveau, executive secretary of the Maritime Fishermen's Union. ''There's anxieties among fishermen everywhere.''

Simon said he understood the frustration, but thought it was misdirected. ''It's hard to put that onus on us, because the law of the land is on our side.''

The Supreme Court's 5- 2 ruling gave Micmac, Maliseet and Passamaquody Indians unfettered hunting and fishing rights when it overturned a 1996 conviction of Donald Marshall Jr. for fishing eels without a license, citing a treaty signed in 1760.

Yesterday, 200 non-Indian fishermen visited the Chatham, N.B., office of Liberal MP Charles Hubbard, who chairs the federal fisheries committee.

Belliveau said that in the Miramachi Bay, ''the number of traps and catch rates are reaching the equivalent of what we would be having in a full commercial (fishery) - and that's no joke.''

At Hubbard's office, calls were made to federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal. He had promised Tuesday to clarify Ottawa's position within two days. Belliveau said Dhaliwal told the fishermen he expects to hear back from the Justice Department today and to make a statement.

New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord echoed Marshall's suggestion that it might help if aboriginal fishermen ''reduced their enthusiasm.''