Natives defy lobster limits

The London Free Press
Monday, October 11, 1999

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. At least one Maritime aboriginal band says new rules on the native fishery will be broken today.

Federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal imposed strict guidelines yesterday on two bands that insist on fishing out of season under newly won treaty rights.

But native fishers in Burnt Church, who are now restricted to setting only 600 lobster traps, say they plan on setting as many as they want.

"I don't think he has the justification to do that as the fisheries minister," said Alex Dedam, Burnt Church band manager.

"He cannot cancel our treaty rights . . . We're determined to exercise our fishing rights. His offer is not acceptable."

Under pressure from commercial fishers to cap native lobster hauls, Dhaliwal said a limited native fishery would be allowed until the end of the month.

But there will be limits on catch sizes, the number of traps and the type of fishing gear.

Burnt Church fishers were limited to 600 traps while fishers from the Shubenacadie band in Indian Brook, N.S., were limited to 800.

The guidelines are to be enforced by officials with the Fisheries Department.

By contrast, individual commercial fishers are allowed to set up to 300 traps each.

Dhaliwal said 33 other Maritime bands have voluntarily agreed to stop fishing for 30 days while Ottawa comes up with a long-term plan to regulate the fishery.

He called that a "victory," despite failing to reach agreement with the Burnt Church band -- New Brunswick's most active native fish- ing community and recently responsible for setting an estimated 4,000 traps.

Dhaliwal said his decision came after lengthy consultations with aboriginal bands, commercial fishers and provincial ministers.

"I'm confident that this will be accepted as a compromise that took into consideration the views of all the groups," Dhaliwal told a news conference in Ottawa.

The minister also announced he'll allow a commercial fishery in the Bay of Fundy to open as scheduled Thursday.

Atlantic chiefs had requested Ottawa close the fishery entirely while new rules are hammered out.

"Certainly this is great news for us," said Jim Wood of the Alma Fishermen's Association, who had argued last week that a moratorium would financially devastate fishing families.

Gary Hurley, of the Fundy East Fishermen's Association, credited Chief Brian Toney of the nearby Annapolis band for persuading the minister to allow non-natives to fish.

Toney joined a meeting of commercial fishers and fisheries officials on Friday and urged the government to maintain the commercial season.

"We sure owe thanks to the First Nations in this area for their support," said Hurley.

"They didn't need to come forward and support us but they did."

Dhaliwal's announcement yesterday followed weeks of tension between native and non-native lobster fishers after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld on Sept. 17 an ancient treaty allowing aboriginals unfettered fishing rights.

Many non-natives met the court ruling ruling with anger, fearing that wide-open native fishing in the off-season would deplete the resource.

While Burnt Church natives vowed to defy Ottawa's new rules, the chief of Indian Brook's Shubenacadie band said his members will likely find no trouble complying.

"I don't think it will affect us at all, really," said Reg Maloney, noting his band already imposes very similar restrictions on its fishers, including limited catch sizes and trap numbers and a season ending Oct. 31.

But he was uneasy about letting the government dictate how natives exercise their rights.

"If we have a right, we should be able to exercise that right according to our own regulations that we decide," said Maloney, whose community numbers 1,500.

Dedam, of the Burnt Church reserve, said the new rules undermine his community's treaty rights.

"The Supreme Court had indicated that a moderate livelihood would be considered," said Dedam.

"Now 600 traps for a community of what, 1,200 people? That's not even half a trap per person. Come on, I think this is ridiculous."

Dedam said if any Burnt Church natives are charged under the new limits, the band will take their fight to the Supreme Court.

* * *

Some facts on the aboriginal fishing dispute:

Number of native traps set after Supreme Court ruling compared with the number of commercial traps set annually:

New Brunswick -- Commercial: 600,000. Aboriginal: 5,000.

Prince Edward Island -- Commercial: 400,000. Aboriginal: 3,000.

Nova Scotia -- Commercial: One million. Aboriginal: 4,000.

30 Day Moratorium: 33 of 35 aboriginal bands agree.

Dissenting bands: Burnt Church, N.B., restricted to 600 traps; Indian Brook, N.S., allowed 800 traps.

East Coast lobster seasons:

Bay of Fundy: Oct. 14 to Dec. 31.

Southwest Nova Scotia: Nov. 29 to May 31.


"We sure owe thanks to the First Nations in this area for their support. They didn't need to come forward and support us but they did." -- Gary Hurley of the Fundy East Fishermen's Association.