Deal brokered by Rae could end N.B. fishery dispute
Burnt Church natives agree to remove 'substantial number' of lobster traps
GRAEME HAMILTON, with files from JUSTINE HUNTER
Wednesday, September 20, 2000
BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Bob Rae brokered an agreement late yesterday that could lead to a peaceful settlement in the native fishing dispute in northeastern New Brunswick.
The former Ontario premier said the Burnt Church First Nation had agreed to remove "a substantial number" of lobster traps from the waters of Miramichi Bay.
"This is obviously something which everybody has been waiting to hear, that there's going to be a substantial reduction in the number of traps," Mr. Rae said.
He called the news "a significant development, and one that should lead to mutual confidence that will produce a settlement."
The announcement late last night of a breakthrough ended a day that began with defiant talk from Burnt Church leaders, who said they would not remove any traps from the water.
But after a long day of meetings with all sides, Mr. Rae said the band council proposed that, starting this morning, its people will team with Fisheries and Oceans Canada officers to count the lobster traps now in the bay. He said all traps that do not carry tags issued by the Burnt Church band will be seized.
Reg Comeau, a spokesman for the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said his group is pleased by yesterday's development. He said the union will advise its members, some of whom have been threatening to remove native traps themselves, to hold off.
Karen Somerville, a spokeswoman for the Burnt Church band, expressed hope that the gesture will prevent further clashes over the lobster fishery, which have emerged since the Supreme Court of Canada last year recognized the Mi'kmaqs' right to earn a living from fishing.
The development came just as talks appeared to be breaking down and the potential for violence was growing.
A spokesman for the Burnt Church band had said earlier the community would not bend to demands from non-native fishermen and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) that hundreds of lobster traps be removed from Miramichi Bay.
"The stocks have not been proven by anybody to be, nor do we feel they are, in danger," said Brian Bartibogue, a band councillor and fisherman.
The natives' determination could have set the stage for further confrontations on the water. In recent weeks, native fishing boats have been rammed by DFO enforcement vessels trying to remove traps, and last fall, a flotilla of non-native boats destroyed thousands of native traps.
Ovide Mercredi, advisor to the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, warned that natives across the country will mobilize if Ottawa insists on shutting down the Burnt Church fishery.
"The Canadian government would make a serious mistake if they enforced again, because there will be political actions outside this community," he said.
On Sunday, Mr. Rae announced that the parties in the dispute had until 5 p.m. yesterday to reach a solution to the conflict.
But yesterday, Mr. Rae said he is willing to continue for as long as his services are useful.
"I still believe that a negotiated conclusion, in all circumstances, is the better way to do it," he said.
Ottawa contends last year's Marshall decision by the Supreme Court of Canada gave it the power to regulate the native fishery, and wants Burnt Church to fish alongside non-native fishermen.
Burnt Church fishermen insist the court gave them the right to manage their own fishery, and they feel their fishing is dwarfed by the non-native fishery.