Fisheries officers chased by natives seize more traps

National Post
Wednesday, September 27, 2000


RCMP officers dock their inflatable boat at Neguac, N.B., after patrolling the waters off Burnt Church yesterday.

Jacques Boissinot, The Canadian Press

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - A day after turning tail at the sight of approaching Mi'kmaq Warriors, federal enforcement officers wearing bulletproof vests returned to seize more native lobster traps from New Brunswick's Miramichi Bay yesterday.

As two helicopters buzzed overhead, the two sides played a game of cat-and-mouse. More than a dozen Department of Fisheries and Oceans and RCMP boats criss-crossed the waters off the Burnt Church reserve for nearly two hours. Their manoeuvres appeared to confuse the pursuing Warriors, and fisheries officers plucked dozens of lobster traps.

Bob Allain, area manager for DFO, said officers reported the suspicion that there were weapons aboard some of the seven native boats protecting the traps. "You assume the worst-case scenario, and you assume that people are armed and that those arms might be used," he said.

Ovide Mercredi of the Assembly of First Nations called the latest raid a provocation on the government's part. "I think they are just trying to say to the Indian fishermen and Burnt Church, we're here to enforce, we have the capacity to do it and we're going to keep doing that until you stop fishing," he said.

Mr. Mercredi returned to Burnt Church on Monday at the request of Matthew Coon Come, the national chief, after a weekend marked by gunshots raised fears the native lobster dispute was turning violent. On Monday, fisheries officers reported hearing shots from the reserve as they seized native lobster traps off shore. That incident, under RCMP investigation, followed two recent episodes of gunfire, alleged in one case to have come from a native boat and in the other from a non-native boat.

"If there's any truth to them, those are the incidents that should be avoided, because if we go that way then obviously the government will have succeeded in their strategy to portray this community not just as illegal, but as criminal," Mr. Mercredi told reporters.

Mr. Mercredi backed the actions of the militant Warriors, some of whom have declared they will lay their lives on the line to stop the government from seizing more traps. "The Warriors are playing an important role here," he said. "Their role is to provide protection for those traps and also to be a shield against DFO, because DFO has hurt the people here," he said.

He advised the public not to read too much into the Warrior rhetoric. "They're not putting themselves there to die. It's a position that they express just to convey to the government how determined they are. It doesn't mean that they are going to be aggressors," he said.

Fisheries officials say they have seized more than 1,300 of the roughly 1,800 traps that were in the water last week, though natives and opposition MPs insist that number is inflated.