Indians defy lobster rules

The Gazette (Montreal)
Monday, May 8, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. Indian fishermen in northern New Brunswick are again defying federal regulations and openly setting traps that break Ottawa's rules for the lobster fishery.

Ten traps were seized on Saturday but federal fisheries officers decided to bide their time yesterday as a small boat carrying three aboriginal women headed out on the choppy waters of Miramichi Bay to set additional lobster traps marked with tags issued by the Burnt Church First Nation.

One of the fishers, who goes by the Micmac name Miigam'agan, said, ''We feel it's our inherent right and we're not going to let anyone stop us. ''

Indian fishermen believe it's only a matter of time before the Department of Fisheries also impounds the 10 wooden lobster ''pots'' set yesterday.

Fisheries official Andre-Marc Lanteigne agreed. ''Unauthorized fishing will not be accepted. ... The last thing we want is a confrontation, but it's important that the Fisheries Act is upheld.''

DFO rules say all traps must carry tags issued by the department.

Two members of the Christian Peacemaker Team, who are in Burnt Church to back Indian fishermen, were briefly arrested Saturday after they tried to prevent traps from being confiscated. They face possible charges of obstructing peace officers.

''What kind of peace officer takes traps from fishermen who are pursuing their lawful treaty right?'' asked Father Bob Holmes of Toronto, one of those who was arrested.

There was violence last fall when Burnt Church Indians set traps during the closed season, following a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that the Micmac and Maliseet people have a treaty right to earn a moderate living from fishing, hunting and gathering.

The court later clarified that their right is subject to federal regulation.

At the moment, federal rules allow for 17 commercial licenses at Burnt Church and 5,100 traps. Burnt Church member James Ward said the reserve wants the right to set up to 15,000 traps.

Lanteigne said efforts to negotiate a deal with Burnt Church are stalled.

The band is split, he added. There are 13 commercial fishermen from the reserve currently setting traps under DFO regulations.